The textbook conundrum

A+new+Florida+bill+aims+to+help+students+save+costs+by+requiring+them+to+use+textbooks+in+their+classes+for+three+years+before+they+can+assign+new+ones.

A new Florida bill aims to help students save costs by requiring them to use textbooks in their classes for three years before they can assign new ones.

Ian Morse

By Ian Morse ‘17 and Melissa Last‘17 | Collaborative Reporters

Photo by Nicole Maselli ‘14

A recent Florida bill that seeks to limit the frequency that professors assign new textbooks is designed so students can save on educational expenses.

The proposed Florida legislation would require professors to use course textbooks for at least three years, limiting the turnover in course materials and increasing the availability of relevant used books. Supporters say it will mitigate financial burdens on students, which often are upwards of hundreds of dollars.

“Rising textbooks costs are hard because college is already expensive,” Stavros Kariofillis ‘17 said. “Textbook expenses just pile up on top of that.”

However, opposition claims it will impose unnecessary restrictions on teaching material, which could be detrimental to students’ overall education when information becomes outdated, as it often does.

“I think you have to be careful about limiting the ability of the faculty member to choose the text that they think is the most appropriate for their course,” Chemistry Department Head H. David Husic said.

A study published in January by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group states that 65% of students do not buy course textbooks because of high costs, even though they correlate textbook use to higher grades. Lafayette professors maintain quality in new information provided in textbooks as a strong determinant.

“The cost in terms of learning outcomes, to me, would be greater than the cost of the book,” Associate Professor of Economics David Stifel said of the Florida bill.

Two years ago, the mathematics department made a decision to adopt a less expensive version of the current textbook used for all three calculus courses, but received negative results.

“A big reason we selected that text was that it was cheaper,” Associate Professor of Mathematics Tom Yuster said. “But it turned out that we couldn’t work out of it.”

Yuster recalls the department-wide decision-making process for choosing the current textbook used for all three calculus courses.

“We’re jettisoning [the previous textbook] because it’s not the educational tool we need it to be,” Yuster said. “We went back to a book that’s more expensive because it did what it was supposed to do.”

Prices of new textbooks have gone up at a rate three times that of inflation between 2002 and 2012, according to Government Accountability Office.

The extended use of a course textbook would allow it to be sold for cheaper prices after its initial use. The publishers receive no profit on used books sold within the college, only from new editions, which are released frequently.

“It bothers me that they have to change this edition every three or four years, it’s more often than is needed,” Husic said of his course’s biochemistry textbook. “The changes are subtle.”

Associate Professor of Psychology John Shaw said that professors are not only conscious of the rising cost, but work to limit their students’ financial stress.

“Most professors are keenly aware of how much texts cost and we’re all looking for ways to reduce that burden,” he said.