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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Textbook Alternatives

I think it is reasonable to assume that community college students are especially sensitive to price. Price is one of the advantages of attending community college over a public or private four year college. But the sticker price of community college (tuition and fees) is less than students actually pay because of the significant price of textbooks. The current edition of Knight’s textbook costs $225 new, for example. While this does include access to an online homework system and the students can potentially sell back the text at the end of the year, this is still a large amount of money for most of my students. This problem has even drawn the attention of Congress, which passed a bill requiring disclosure of prices to instructors, unbundling of supplements, and early notice to students of required textbooks.

I recently joined a “Textbook Advisory Committee” at Chemeketa for the purpose of reducing these costs. We gathered ideas from faculty and our bookstore, met with book salespeople, and published recommendations. Here are some of our ideas:
  1. Use the same textbook when multiple instructors teach the same course.
  2. Use the same textbook for courses in a sequence.
  3. Coordinate with instructors at other schools to purchase textbooks as a group.
  4. Use 3-hole drilled or custom textbooks. Publishers like these because they stifle the used book market. In return, they are generally willing to give a lower price.
  5. Negotiate with the publisher to obtain discounts.
  6. Use an online textbook (e-book).
  7. Use old editions or accommodate multiple editions.
  8. Use self-authored, creative commons, open source, or materials that are not copyrighted.
  9. Put textbooks on reserve in the library.
  10. Use book rental.
My current strategies include 2, 7, and 9. I use Knight’s first edition which runs about $10 on Amazon. I’m also interested in open source materials. But as long as students can find the old textbooks (which I like), it doesn’t seem worth the effort to cobble something together.

I would appreciate comments on the above ideas. I’d also like to hear about ideas you have that are not on the list.


Karim Diff said...

We have similar concerns in my college, although we did not go through a formal committee. We are encouraged to consider alternatives. One thing we have done with our applied physics (aka Technical physics) is to use ICP21 (a textbook put together by TYC people) which, with the licensing, ends up costing our students about $30 each semester. For algebra-based and calculus-based physics I have started to use Paul D'Alessandris's Spiral Physics as a supplement (for in-class activities) before using it as the primary text/source. It's free and available (you can google it). I know others who have completely dropped textbooks (I am hoping to join them soon).

Asa Bradley said...

Our college uses most or your committee's ideas. Our bookstore has rental books available for students, but our department has to commit to use the book for a certain number of years and it is only available for classes with high enrollment. One of my students told me about online rental services such as Chegg ( Does anybody have experience with these? My student had used Chegg for several classes with good results.

Erik Jensen said...

Karim, I'm pleased to see the movement towards dropping textbooks. I'm not sure the majority of my students are ready for this, but I suspect this will change in a few years. One obstacle for me is that I use open book and open note quizzes. If I open it up to internet ready devices, then cheating would almost certainly become a bigger problem.

Asa, the rental program is one idea that we have not implemented. The traditional cycle of purchase and buyback doesn't seem to have a net cost to students that is much more than the rental program. Is our assessment inaccurate?

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