Thursday, May 24, 2012

Renting Textbooks . . .

is a great idea.  And the death of a sinecure.  When I was in college, no one gave the cost of the textbooks a second thought.  When my kids were in school, they played a little game with their parents that converted the proceeds from the resale of their textbooks into additional pocket money, and everyone accepted that textbooks were overpriced and a ripoff, but, also, just one of the unavoidable costs of a university education.

Something changed.  My first inkling came a couple of years ago, when I went back to school to take the university level calculus sequence, a bit of unfinished personal business.  Most of my fellow students were 40 years younger than me and serious about the schooling, at a big urban state university (Portland State in Oregon).  I did not make many friends among the kids, but I sure heard a lot of interesting conversations.

These people were actively trying to minimize the cost of textbooks.  They were even organizing and doing so collectively.  Forget Tea Party rants about socialism and private property, this was the American communitarian impulse at its self-organizing best.  Professors politely announced, for the benefit of those using the far cheaper superceded earlier editions, a willingness to post conversion tables tracking the assignments and problem sets from the current edition back to those earlier editions (some professors would even grade the earlier problem sets, though most wanted the student to go to the library and do the problems from the current edition).  The fraternities and sororieties (yes, the Greek system, home in my day to recyclable banks of term papers to save the brothers--and sisters--the trouble of doing their own work) had developed libraries of textbooks for the more popular courses, to save the brothers and sisters a little money, whether with the aim of smaller student debt loads or a better class of kegger, I don't know.  The kids were sharing information about buying cheaper off the internet and, panecea of panecea, buying foreign editions, always cheaper, usually paperback and lighter.

So renting textbooks makes all the sense in the world.  And when that catches on, watch the interval between textbook editions mysteriously lengthen.

1 comment:

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