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The college-text racket

March 15, 2015

Exorbitant book prices harm struggling students and thus the economy.

I worked with all the accounting and economics textbooks being used at a college for 10 years. Every two or three years a new edition would come out. I have seen the 15th edition of a text. This new edition (often costing $200 or more) makes the old edition practically useless. The knowledge is almost the same, but the homework problems are different—and to pass the class you need to do the homework.

Undergraduate work in any field is mostly learning the language and basic concepts of that subject. One of the main goals of education is to promote “critical thinking skills.” Shouldn’t a student wonder why a 10th edition beginning chemistry/history/calculus textbook costs so much? Are we to believe that the author, who has a doctorate in the field, has really found nine new ways to explain the same basic concepts?

How many new ways can an economist find to explain why a demand curve slopes downward and a supply curve upward? Double-entry accounting is 500 years old. How many more new editions does the world need? Just because Pluto is no longer a planet, do we really need to throw away the whole astronomy textbook?

The author, a graduate of Butte College and Chico State, worked at Butte College for 10 years and considers himself an education activist. Read the full post

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