College Tuition Is Expensive Enough, Let Alone the Textbooks

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Final exams
were coming, but I still could not afford the textbook for Botany
100. I was bagging groceries to pay college tuition and thought
I could navigate freshman year just by being attentive in class.

With nothing
to cram from, I made my way to the library. But finding no botany
texts in the stacks, I checked out the autobiography of Gregor Mendel,
the “father” of genetics, whose field had been the major
emphasis of Dr. Baker, my instructor.

So while my
classmates were poring over the graphs and study questions in the
textbook, I lay on my bed, reading about Mendel’s childhood
illnesses, his interest in plants, and his stream of consciousness
musings.

When I finally
got to Mendel’s experiments growing green peas, I was pretty
into it, having accompanied him on his “journey” since
Day 1.

“You received
a perfect score on the genetics section,” said Dr. Baker. “That’s
never happened.”

I was no science
genius. The D earned later in zoology confirmed that fact.

But acing the
test made me wonder: Were textbooks necessary? Could students succeed
while saving money, using free resources from the library, or from
life?

I revisited
that question after landing a teaching job at a Chicago public high
school. My third year, we had a teachers strike; in my eighth, the
city textbook fund went broke, so I was left to improvise for my
128 pupils in freshman English.

For literature
and vocabulary, we harvested readings from free trial subscriptions
to Scholastic Magazine. For grammar and writing, I composed
my own work sheets, drills, and sample essays for distribution.

Initially,
it was a ton of work. But there was a side benefit: Students were
more attentive to the up-to-date stories and screenplays in the
magazine. And they liked my “customized” usage exercises
even better: Tyrone (laid, lay) in front of the TV, watching Walter
Peyton beat the Washington Redskins.

I reflected
on all of this last week, when my college writing students said
the bookstore was charging a whopping $72 for our text.

Delia, who
is a sophomore, sought to reassure me that English was among the
bargains on her book list, which included texts for Psychology 2012,
$95; Art 1201, $106.75; and Biology 1005, $200.50.

How can this
be, when the bestselling hardcovers average only $25 at Amazon.com
or Barnes & Noble?

A US Government
Accounting Office report shows that textbook prices rose 40 percent
between 2002 and 2007, and 186 percent between 1986 and 2004, so
that a college student’s annual book bill averages $900!

Read
the rest of the article

March
16, 2010

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