Sarah Grace Goolden
From fighting to get the last book before class starts, to scrounging up hundreds of dollars for a stack of papers that will collect dust, students know the horrors of buying textbooks far too well. Anyone who has attended college has at least once questioned the price of required readings and if they still serve their function in our current era of easy-access technology.
According to The Atlantic, those attending universities spend an average of $1,200 per semester on textbooks alone. If classwork cannot be completed without it, students are forced to cough up the money, no matter what the price. Most students are taking between four to six classes, some requiring multiple textbooks. With the mountain of debt piling up every semester, the last thing students want to worry about is finding the money for books they are not going to need in a couple months. Education is an important investment, but what makes these books so expensive?
Unbeknownst to most students, the textbooks they are being forced to purchase are part of a monopoly. Pearson Education, a UK-based publishing company, owns most of the assigned text. This then allows them to control the cost. With companies like Penguin and Prentice Hall under their belt, Pearson has been able to effectively seize the entire textbook market.
For students, this is a financial nightmare. Without competition, the prices of textbooks are at the complete discretion of one company. Even though their official goal is to “help every student succeed,” as it states on their website, Pearson has demonstrated they have no issue gouging students with the price of their books.
This is not the first accusation against Pearson that they are using their influence to corrupt the education system. The company has a history of trying to run schools like a business, including pushing for a common core curriculum and more standardized testing in K-12. Both of these approaches can hurt students with different learning styles. This makes education less personal, more predictable and significantly more profitable.
The Huffington Post reported that the price of textbooks have increased 812 percent over the past 30 years. Pearson has even been accused of publishing new editions of books including few changes from the last in an effort to make more money.
In the early 1900s, textbooks were cheap and redistributed until they were in threads. Quality and durability were the most important factors, ensuring the information to be accessible for generations to come. In the 1990s, prices suddenly jumped after companies realized that it was possible to create a business out of scamming broke college kids. Textbooks became less about providing knowledge and more about politics.
Today, every time a student begrudgingly forks over an obscene amount of cash for a textbook, they are feeding into a monopoly. Yet, the corrupt system thrives because students cannot afford to fail a class to prove a point. The change must begin in teachers who see the problem.
In an era where students can access information in seconds, textbooks are teetering on obsolete. Some professors, recognizing the problems that arise with requiring textbooks, are now opting for different sources. Incorporating references from different perspectives offers a wider range of information, allowing students to form their own opinions. Scholarly articles, databases and free e-books are available online. All of these sources are accessible from cell phones and, most importantly, are not hundreds of dollars.
Even with renting options and buying through cheaper distributors, students are struggling to afford their textbooks and professors should not penalize them for that. A hardworking and diligent person can fail their class if they do not have the funds to purchase textbooks. This practice is not an accurate representation of student performance; it is just another example of how insatiable these companies can be when it comes to making a profit.
College is already incredibly expensive. Requiring outrageously priced textbooks is devastating for students financially, especially when the same information can be accessed for free. Professors have already begun to steer away from the expensive monopoly plaguing the education system, but until colleges recognize the plunging value of textbooks, students can still expect to see an outrageous price tag at the beginning of every semester.