Tuesday, December 03, 2013

It has a strange allure

Wow. Thomas Frank namechecks Mission of Burma AND totally goes off on American Higher Ed. I don't agree with it all, but I agree with a lot of it and it's an essential read.

Here's one slice to get you started:

Paying $250 for a textbook is more like it nowadays; according to one economist, textbook prices have increased 812 percent over the past thirty-five years, outstripping not only inflation (by a mile) but every other commodity—home prices, health care—that we usually consider to be spiraling out of control.

The explanation is simple. The textbook publishers use every trick known to the marketing mind to obsolete their products year after year, thus closing off the possibility of second-hand sales. What’s more, textbook publishing is a highly concentrated industry—an oligopoly—which means they can drive prices pretty much as high as they feel like driving them. Meanwhile, the professors who assign the textbooks and who might do something about the problem don’t have to pay for them.

The charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two.


ConnGator said...

A mostly good history but mostly the wrong solutions.

A main driver of high college costs is increased government loans and grants. Basically 100% of the increase in this is captured not by the student but by the university.

Agree that the increased administration and fancy buildings are the "why", but the loans/grants are the "how".

And of course the bankruptcy idea is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I got a B.S. ten years ago when I was 45. College textbooks are a racket. For core classes I had to get the latest version of the textbook. Even if I could locate a used one online the price was north of $50, while the previous edition was going for $5. What fundamental changes in algebra or statistics or business communications require a new textbook every year or two? Why do instructors specify the latest, most expensive edition? Do they get a kickback?

Anonymous said...

Market for texts is interesting. I wonder if anyone has examined it closely. For example, like cars and houses, one would think that one factor determining how much a student would be willing to pay for a text is the expected resale value at the end of the term. Wouldn't this effect have to be traded off against whatever advantage comes with reducing resale value through more frequent issuing of new editions?

Anonymous said...

As course instructor I never assign a new edition of a textbook unless it is the first and only available edition, and no good alternative exists.

To be fair, most major publishers now offer e-book alternatives at a small fraction of the price, so instead of $200, the student pays $80-100.

Anonymous said...

funny that this very post is an illustration of how, despite all that's screwed up in higher ed, as listed in the article itself, the focus falls on...the price of textbooks. people focus on whatever issue is most easily hyped, especially if that distracts attention from the bigger picture.