Government Spending

Because Congress Doesn't Have Enough To Do, Chapter MMMCCXXXVIII (College Textbook Edition)

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Reader Geoff Nathan passes along some news about a Congress that really has too much time on its hands:

The high cost of textbooks is a widely deliberated problem without a popular solution. Now Congress has moved toward passing a law on the issue.

To ease the burden of textbook prices on students, the House of Representatives' education committee has proposed strict requirements for colleges and publishers in its version of legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the major law that governs federal student aid. Textbooks are part of the overall cost of higher education and should be included in the renewed law, said Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for the Republican members of the committee.

Under the bill, publishers would have to promote custom textbooks and "unbundle" materials like CD's and workbooks that are typically packaged with textbooks, raising the amount students must pay.

The bill also calls for two disclosures, one from publishers and the other from colleges.

More here, from the excellent Chronicle of Higher Education.

We can stipulate that college textbooks cost too much, that publishers are sons of bitches who don't care a goddman stitch about learnin', that colleges and universities are subsidy-sucking sinkholes that don't give a rat's ass about anything other than jacking tuition, that most college students are useless sacks of shit who should be remanded to coal mines where they might actually add something to society…and this is still a total waste of time for Congress.

Though given that our elected officials could be passing the time authorizing bombing runs and new entitlements, maybe it's not that bad really.

NEXT: Ron Paul Giving New England Another Try

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  1. I’ve been concerned about the high cost of government. Can Congress address that issue?

  2. Gillespie has been fired up the last few days. Is it me, or has there been a freedom-with-responsibility sort of tone to his posts? It seems he’s actually defending freedom while acknowleding that people often use that freedom in stupid, stupid ways. I find this interesting. Or maybe it’s just me.

  3. I think the FBI should be involved. I’ve always maintained that the college textbook racket is a Mob enterprise.

  4. I’m concerned about the high cost of Raufoss .50bmg ammo, could y’all fix that please?

    http://gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.asp?Item=90981644

  5. Cocaine costs too much. Congress could certainly do something about that.

  6. As long as Congress spends its days in economic-fantasy-land, why can’t they make the publishers give the book to students free? I don’t see anything in the Constitution about a right to profit.

  7. Government meddling in the market for ____________ has inflated prices; the solution is, of course, more government meddling.

  8. One of my ruthless friends ( who I strongly urge you kids not to emulate ) went several semesters without buying any textbooks by seeking out the plain Jane good notetaker types in his classes and chatting them up for their course materials. This was at a Big Ten institution.
    He looked at lot like Rob Lowe.
    With my looks, I had to buy all the books.

  9. So the price of college textbooks will be going down, huh?

    Who wants to bet on it?
    Anybody, anybody at all?

  10. I had two solutions to this. The first was international editions, which cost significantly less for some reason. The second was to buy the (supposedly) worthless previous editions and conferring with my fellow students which problems in the previous edition corresponded with the assigned problems (the only changes in most new editions was a fixed typo and a new problem or two, which jacked up the numbering). Old editions never cost more than $5-10.

  11. We can stipulate that college textbooks cost too much, that publishers are sons of bitches who don’t care a goddman stitch about learnin’, that colleges and universities are subsidy-sucking sinkholes that don’t give a rat’s ass about anything other than jacking tuition, that most college students are useless sacks of shit who should be remanded to coal mines where they might actually add something to society…and this is still a total waste of time for Congress.

    Damn that’s poetry. Nick could you write that out long hand on parchment with a turkey quill. I’d like to hang it on me wall.

  12. Slugger “With my looks, I had to buy all the books.”
    thats nothing – with my looks I had to buy all the books FOR Colleges in the Western hemisphere.

  13. Seriously, any student who’s buying their books at full price at the college bookstore is either incorrigibly lazy or irreversibly stupid. Either that, or Mommy and Daddy are paying all their bills, including textbooks, in which case it is the parents who are lazy and stupid.

  14. I would guess that the extra materials like CDs are being thrown in for free to justify the high price of the books. Banning that practice will essentially be creating a barrier to competition, which will probably increase costs for anybody who wants to buy both the book and CD.

  15. Custom editions actually make textbooks more expensive for me. With a regular edition, you can get a pretty decent resale price online. With a custom edition, you don’t get jack.

  16. One of my ruthless friends ( who I strongly urge you kids not to emulate ) went several semesters without buying any textbooks by seeking out the plain Jane good notetaker types in his classes

    ah, the ‘homely girl theory’ – also used as a means to get your laundry done, your room clean, and a decent meal every so often. Like you, my gall is quite mitigated (and my looks are quite galling) to be able to execute such a strategery, but I have personally witnessed it in action.

  17. Though given that our elected officials could be passing the time authorizing bombing runs and new entitlements, maybe it’s not that bad really.

    That’s what we call “lose-lose.”

  18. The high cost of textbooks is a widely deliberated problem

    Bullshit. Practically nobody cares who isn’t footing a college bill.

  19. I would guess that the extra materials like CDs are being thrown in for free to justify the high price of the books. Banning that practice will essentially be creating a barrier to competition, which will probably increase costs for anybody who wants to buy both the book and CD.

    Bingo.

  20. I’m taking two classes now. The three textbooks I need cost $330 in the college bookstore. I got one of them new and the other two used through Amazon for $130. Two of them were previous editions. Unless the professor is going to assign problems directly from the book, you can usually get by with a previous edition.

    Textbooks cost so much because publishers have a (relatively) captive market. Professors usually require a particular textbook.

  21. I used to order all my textbooks online for some pretty amazing savings. Then I found out that textbooks can be written off as a business expense or something come tax time. Why go out of my way to save nothing?

    If the government weren’t paying, the number one thing that would reduce text book costs is encouraging professors to announce the required texts at least a month before the beginning of the class, to allow time for delivery of books that are out of stock in most popular online retailers.

    Don’t most reasonable undergrads buy mostly used books at a highly reduced price anyway?

    One last thing, I’ve never understood why people get so worked up about spending like $500 per term on books when spending so many more thousands on tuition alone.

  22. “Textbooks cost so much because publishers have a (relatively) captive market. Professors usually require a particular textbook.”

    IMHO professors are probably getting some sort of kick back for requiring a particular book in their classes. I have also seen professors require a text book, which they authored, for their classes. That would probably be even more better coin for the professors.

    What would particularly gall me was the “new edition” which was almost exactly the same as the “old edition” except for the cover and the price was way higher of course. This guarantees the new price will always be charged and used books are worthless because they aren’t the right edition.

    Coming in second was the sell back scam that the book stores run on students where students would get less than 10% of the price they paid for the book.

  23. /The most I paid for a text book was….wait for it….$80, it was spanking new, and I, being a poor college student, bitched about paying for it.

    //The only thing that is guaranteed is the prices keep going up.

  24. Predatory textbooking.

  25. Here at our wonderful and unnamed service academy, our professors change up books every semester, and check to make sure that no one is using an older edition. Some are making it even harder and using those customized textbooks, switching up the jacket colors. They don’t want us to buy from anywhere except for the bookstore, because “they ordered it for everyone already”, even though they can and do send extras back every semester. As a result, I pay $400-600 a semester (which may not be alot comparatively, but is alot to me). Buying used, I could keep it under $250, and I could even save $50-$100 by buying new from somewhere else.

  26. my point is, it the publishers all by themselves that are a problem, as I see it.

  27. I meant it is not the publishers all by themselves. Apologies for the triple post

  28. I think the nature of most college courses and professors makes this situation way worse than it needs to be. Specifically, much of the status quo in college education precludes market competition from delivering lower prices and higher quality.

    The most obvious problem is that textbook publishers “update” to a new edition almost yearly, changing almost nothing but the problems. This is only a problem if the problems are the basis of graded homework, so it affects math way worse than other courses. Math courses were the only ones I ever personally experienced requiring specific editions. If professors taught courses without grading homework, and the problems in the books were simply practice for students to do on their own (which is why the answers are in the back of the book anyway!), people wouldn’t need the current edition, or even any edition of the same book — they could use any calculus book, e.g.

    I think, aside from homework problems, the main problem is the attitude that professors should choose the one and only textbook right for teaching a subject. Now, sometimes you’ll have a nice professor like I did who intentionally avoided hardback books to get cheaper books for us students (but — I wanted hardback in that case: much better longevity!). But often the only market mechanism functioning is publishers competing for professors’ preference of a book’s content, without significant regard for its price. It absolutely beats me why the routine is not for professors to recommend to their students the books they think are best to learn from, but leave it up to students to get that book or any other that students think will be useful in a course. Any of the dozen physical geology textbooks available would cover all the subjects taught in a course; professors would need only to assign reading by subject rather than page number.

    Fortunately, internet shopping is a viable option and might alleviate the general lack of market function. I suppose the current, burdensome system is leftover from a time when college was more elitist and publishing/distribution necessitated college-operated bookstores selling books specifically chosen by professors.

  29. Most of the world outside the U.S. uses Schaum’s Outlines for math & physical sciences books. They’re dirt cheap, paperback, full of problem sets — pretty much ideal. For some reason, professors here turn up their noses.

    But on the congressional issue — I don’t see what’s wrong with this. As long as the cost of college is subsidized, why shouldn’t books, which are part of the cost, be included?

  30. My favorite teachers assigned readings of selected books. They were bound at the local copy shop.

    As a graduate student, many of my professors assigned readings available from the library and you could get a semester check out.

    /When am I going to be done with “Resource Conservation and Management”?

    //Suck on it undergrad.

  31. Then I found out that textbooks can be written off as a business expense or something come tax time. Why go out of my way to save nothing?

    Obviously, you weren’t studying business or accounting if you think “tax deductible” = “free”.

  32. But I’m just wondering – why are textbooks significantly more expensive in North America than outside? Especially when all other sorts of books tend to be more expensive in other parts of the world (e.g. novels are more expensive in Singapore in comparison with the States, but textbooks aren’t).

    Somehow, I’m guessing the government is involved in this…

  33. Professors don’t make much money off of the textbooks they write. The publishers do. Suggest to your profressors that they start giving their books away online.

    http://textbookrevolution.org
    http://wikibooks.org

    If they don’t go for that, here are some tips to save money on textbooks.

    http://www.squidoo.com/textbooktruth

  34. Why doesn’t the college bookstore simply carry a decent quality e-reader onto which the textbooks can be downloaded? That way when they abandon the 2nd edition for the 3rd edition between semesters, all you need is a cheap update. And it would be a lot easier to haul around!

  35. Is the name of this blog actually _Reason_? As a recovering college professor who put in eighteen years at institutions ranging from large Ph.D. granting universities to modest local community colleges, the matter of high-priced textbooks is an important thing for Congress to address. The entire industry is a racket, and accounts for 60% of all book sales in the U.S. What other industry is there whose ‘middlemen,’ i.e., higher education administrations, have customers who are REQUIRED to purchase their wares, which are created to become outdated within three years, so that a fresh supply can be released and required for new students. Well, I guess when the mafia sells ‘protection,’ it’s following the same economic principles. In one ‘institution’ (pun-intended), every freshman was required to purchase a humanities anthology jerry-rigged together by one of the faculty members. You may appreciate the irony a bit better, perhaps, if you consider that all humanities anthologies are basically the same, including previous editions of the same one, so for example, you may have Plato’s ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ mixed in with Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince one year; then another editon will reverse the order. Additionally, if you believe that the ‘author’ of most textbooks is the individual whose name appears on the cover, I know of a bridge in Brooklyn that resembles the real Brooklyn Bridge down to the smallest detail, but it’s not called the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a secret that I’ll share with you if you’re interested in buying it. I agree with Cheap Textbook Seller that ‘profressors’…start giving their books away online.”

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