In the spirit of starting the school year, I think it’s appropriate to remind you all how much you spend on textbooks. College Board estimates that students at a private nonprofit four-year university (such as Boston University) spent more than $1,200 on average on books and supplies for the 2014-15 school year. Even though some of us may be paying more than others are, I think we can all agree that spending any money on textbooks is an emotionally intense endeavor. However, one college, the redundantly-named University of Maryland University College, has eliminated textbooks from its courses altogether.
Instead of textbooks, the University of Maryland University College (or UMUC for short) will use free readings and videos from around the web to supplement students’ in-class learning. It should be noted that UMUC is a college that caters to adults who have already attended a place of higher education, and most of the courses and programs the school offer are based online.
Though UMUC is an anomaly, its recent action sparks the debate about the validity of requiring students to buy textbooks in the first place. While searching for textbook alternatives, I found this wonderful little place called the Internet that holds a wealth of information for a comparatively small price. And many students are already taking advantage of some websites that offer not-so-pricey and not-so-legal ways to read or download required textbooks.
I’m convinced that the idea of just buying new textbooks every year comes from a place of pure corporate evil. Ronald Steward, headmaster of York Preparatory School in New York, told Mic that publishing companies churn out a steady stream of revised editions every year or so, which results in increased profits that will be lost should all textbooks be put online. Last year, I paid more than $100 for a textbook that had a typo on almost every other page. I don’t know what that $100 went to, but I sure hope it wasn’t that book’s editing team.
Publishers reissue new editions of textbooks in order to fix typos that shouldn’t be in $150 textbooks in the first place, as well as to update outdated information. Though subjects like calculus and algebra haven’t changed much in the past 50 years, textbooks on these subjects have undergone revision after revision in order to present the same content in a slightly different way. Theoretically, if textbooks even switched to a paid digital format, updating content and revising errors would be much easier, the cost for actually printing the book would be nonexistent and students would throw semi-annual textbook non-buying parties every year.
For my final plea, I ask all of the professors of the world this: can you please consider the price of a textbook before requiring it? I know I attend Boston University, where the shiny new cars that line the street make Commonwealth Avenue seem like a high-end car dealership, but many students here would like to not spend more than the $63,000 they have to every year for tuition. Think of the cost. Think of our sanity. Think of us.
And of course I’m going to be biased. I’m a student and every semester I have to pay egregious amounts of money to purchase a textbook that my professor may say is mandatory, then may or may not feel like referencing at all throughout the year.
So as you all plod over to Barnes & Noble to pick up your textbooks this year, just know that somewhere in Maryland, there is a student who now happily sleeps at night cuddling the $400-plus she didn’t spend on college textbooks. Now that’s what dreams are made of.