Editorial: Cooking the books

By Maroon Editorial Board

With course schedules all but set in stone, students face an unenviable dilemma: Either commit themselves to an entire quarter of relying on the single copy of each required reading available on reserve, or open up their wallets to purchase the astronomically priced textbooks.

Help may be on its way. A bill passed by the House of Representatives and currently in Senate Committee would enact measures to increase transparency and student choice in textbook selection and pricing, moderating the textbooks’ ever-increasing price tags.

The bill, part of “The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2008,” would require that professors receive advance notification of the price and publication date of a textbook’s current and previous edition, a list of changes from edition to edition, and the ability to order textbooks sans the common frills (for example, CD-ROMS and workbooks). Bookstores would then be required to provide reading lists to students at least two weeks prior to the start of class.

Such transparency would help professors make more informed decisions. Instead of automatically ordering the newest, unnecessarily comprehensive package, they will be able to consider all the possible options. The newest version of a textbook often offers no substantial changes from previous editions- with the notable exception of a steeper price. Confronted with this, professors may be more likely to ask their students to buy older, cheaper textbooks.

Additionally, students would clearly benefit from advance knowledge of their reading lists. Currently, students looking to save money on their textbooks must scramble for a used copy on Amazon and hope it arrives before the midterm. Given a few weeks’ notice, students could instead peruse the Internet for the lowest textbook prices and receive their orders well before the start of class. They would also have a better opportunity to purchase required texts from fellow students or used bookstores instead of being forced to rely on the Seminary Co-Op or the University Bookstore, institutions that have virtual monopolies in their markets.

The legislation is also commendable for its restraint: Cringe-inducing measures such as price controls or textbook subsidies are absent. Instead of proposing draconian restrictions which would exacerbate an already pressing problem, the House is proposing an eminently logical solution of giving students and professors the information they need to make informed decisions. To paraphrase the University’s motto, as knowledge grows from more to more, students’ wallets will certainly be enriched.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.