The True Cost of College Textbooks

The cost of college textbooks has soared over the years. For students, this is can be an inconvenience.

If a professor requires a textbook, it is mandatory that students purchase it for class or forfeit their grade. Students have minimal options, and as a result are unable to escape from paying textbook fees that vary from class to class.

Students do have an option, one that was not available to their parents and grandparents, to access many public and private trackers on the Internet that often host college textbooks. They have been a boon to many students, for if they were not available there would be no other option for those who cannot afford to purchase textbooks. 

Copyright laws protect the intellectual property of writers and their publishers, preventing anyone (especially students) from obtaining a copy of their work illegally (without purchase).  Recently on NJIT’s unofficial subreddit, /r/NJTech, it was made known that a professor teaching an ethics course required that his students purchase the textbook for his course as well as provide a receipt for proof following the release of a digital copy of the text on the class forum.

Under NJIT’s Acceptable Use Policy for Cyber Resources, it is required that all users abide by copyright and trademark laws relating to the use of computing resources. Posting copyrighted material on Moodle (a public forum) is a clear violation.

Nevertheless, some may argue that regardless of the facts, the professor’s actions were dramatic and unnecessary. Conceivably, one of the more memorable quotes from the professor’s email was, “…as a student that pays a couple thousand dollars per semester in tuition, this should not be a burdensome expense.” Some may find this rationale to be absurd and even shocking from a former student.

To many, this event is ironic, but a reminder to tread carefully when distributing copyrighted material in public. Particularly, in academia where the stakes are not only higher but such an outcome can have detrimental effect on one’s future.

But what can students do to obtain affordable books when searching the web is no longer a viable option? There are numerous ways to combat this issue. For one, students may urge professors to use free and open source options such as the many offerings from the Openstax project.

When asked how she feels about being forced to visit the site of publishers such as Pearson to purchase her textbook without choice, junior Human Computer Interactions major, Gia Esposito stated, “They are taking advantage of the fact that we have to purchase their books and know they can charge whatever they want because their version is required. They also love making tiny additions to the books so they can act like it’s something totally new and charge insane prices for it.”

The reason why college textbooks are so expensive is that there are a few major publishers who publish the editions of the textbook most college professors require that you purchase. Not to mention that most of these books are often bundled with software and access codes which are not optional. According to a 2013 article from The Atlantic, “College textbooks are 812 percent higher than they were 30 years ago.”

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