Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Students Get Savvier About Textbook Buying. From the Crampicle.

Ask Johnny Lazzarini whether he ever skips buying textbooks, and the Foothill College student laughs.

"When I look at a syllabus and it says, 'required text,' I think in my head, Oh, that's adorable," says Mr. Lazzarini, 21, a biology major at this Silicon Valley community college.

Mr. Lazzarini, who waits tables 35 hours a week, has a hard enough time paying for rent and groceries. Textbooks cost him about $500 each quarter. So before he buys one, he looks up the class on Rate My Professors. If previous students say the professor rarely uses a book, he skips it.

He's hardly alone. Roughly one out of every three seniors—and one in four freshmen—often don't buy required materials because of their price. That recent finding, from the National Survey of Student Engagement, was only the latest in a series of studies to show that students skip textbooks, a phenomenon that some say is growing.



  1. I sympathize with the students over the cost of textbooks and take price into consideration when choosing a textbook for a class. But if studies show that students skip buying them, why do I get constant complaints that I haven't specified in minute detail exactly which passages tehy have to read.

    If I just say "this week's material is in chapter nine," half the class can't handle it. So I'm pretty sure its only a subset of students who are managing with the older versions and other alternatives.

  2. My sympathies also go to the students on this, all the more so here at Across the Seas U because there isn't an established market for used textbooks, and nearly all of their books have to be imported from foreign booksellers at a significant markup.

    To provide an alternative to purchase, I make sure that all my texts are in the library collection (if they aren't already, then I order them) and then placed on reserve for the duration of the term. Admittedly, most of the time, if they don't buy their own shiny new copy from the bookstore, my students take advantage of the (egregiously situated) photocopy center located inside the library to procure an illicit version. Still, if they could just get their a$$es to the library on a regular basis, they wouldn't even need to pay for that much.

  3. I get a sense that the kid in the article is clever enough to get away with this.

    But in my own experience, the kids in my classes who don't buy books are just brickheads.

  4. I make sure that I have things on the test that are only in the text, but I also tell my survey students that they can use the earlier edition. In my field, the earlier edition is usually only 2-3 years old, and the material is the same. It's not like there are radically new developments in Gerbil Ranching every year. For upper division classes I use books that have been in print for awhile that are available cheap online.

  5. A student could not pass any of my classes without the books. There's no way in the world. Send the snickering pisher to me.

  6. I had my strategy for getting textbooks for little cost:

    Interlibrary Loan. Get the book, take it home, spend 1 hour taking 300 pictures, one for every page, return it. Buy the old edition used off Amazon, then use my pictures of the latest edition for homework problems.

    I'd also go with the Napster approach, except for textbooks.

    1. I got through school with the help of interlibrary loan. Spent very little on textbooks.

      Imagine that--there's this place you can go to rent books for free. It's a totally legal way of undermining the textbook industrial complex.

  7. What difference does any of this make for professors? I assign reading for the class. The students are responsible for it. I don't care if they buy it, rent it, download it from the international space station, or have it copied onto toilet paper by a thousand monkeys using fountain pens. They are responsible for the material.

    1. I'm with you on that. As long as they read it, I don't care where or how. Then again, if I could get those who actually HAVE the book to even read it, I'd be happy.

    2. I have colleagues who get pissy with students not having the right edition of the text, and others who ban kindle editions; I have no idea why. I'd rather have a student who does the reading from the "wrong" text than one who has the book and hasn't undone the shrinkwrap.

      I do have an increasing number of students who ask if the book is necessary, to which I reply that I haven't assigned it capriciously. I do try to keep costs down, but publishers have us all bent over a barrel when they constantly bring out "new" editions that have minimal changes.

    3. Thus endeth the conversation.

    4. I do have an increasing number of students who ask if the book is necessary

      To be fair, this is a reasonable question. There are quite enough proffies, and what seems to be a majority in some fields, who don't test on anything that hasn't been explicitly written on the board or put on PowerPoints, in class. That's not to say that they are slackers; they spice things up with anecdotes about how things work in practice. But they don't tell students "we will only touch on this, you need to know it thoroughly, so be sure to learn what's in Chapter 10488756A."

      If I had a proffie who didn't test on anything that wasn't passed out in class, and whose textbook had no end-of-chapter problems or exercises, I wouldn't bother with the textbook either.

  8. Nowhere else to put this:

    Remember that "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School" blog? Well, I think they're beginning to run out of gas:

    "Complete List to Date
    1. The smart people are somewhere else.
    2. Your colleagues are your competitors.
    3. Your pedigree counts.
    4. It takes a long time to finish.
    5. Graduate school is not what it used to be.
    6. Intellectual expectations are falling.
    7. Labor demands are increasing.
    8. There are very few jobs.
    9. It is very, very hard.
    10. There is a psychological cost.
    11. There is a psychological cost for quitting.
    12. Adulthood waits.
    13. Respect for the academic profession is declining.
    14. Adjuncthood awaits.
    15. Marriage and family usually wait.
    16. Where you live will be chosen for you.
    17. Funding is fleeting.
    18. Fellowships are few and far between.
    19. These are the best years of your life.
    20. Few ideas are exchanged.
    21. Graduate seminars can be unbearable.
    22. The liberal arts do not attract investment.
    23. There is a pecking order.
    24. “You are still in school?”
    25. Academe is built on pride.
    26. Some graduate students are more equal than others.
    27. The academic bubble may burst.
    28. Writing is hard.
    29. You may not start with plans to be a professor, but...
    30. You occupy a strange place in the world.
    31. There are biological consequences.
    32. The university is an economic engine.
    33. There is too much academic publishing.
    34. There is too little academic publishing.
    35. Mumbo-jumbo abounds.
    36. “So what are you going to do with that?”
    37. The university does not exist for your sake.
    38. The tyranny of the CV.
    39. You are asked to do the impossible.
    40. Faddishness prevails.
    41. Teaching is your first priority.
    42. Your workspace reflects your status.
    43. Attitudes about graduate school are changing.
    44. Advisers can be tyrants.
    45. Nice advisers can be worse.
    46. You may not finish.
    47. It requires tremendous self-discipline.
    48. The two-body problem.
    49. There are few tangible rewards.
    50. You are surrounded by graduate students.
    51. You are surrounded by undergraduates.
    52. Your adviser’s pedigree counts.
    53. Teaching assistantships.
    54. “What do you do for a living?”
    55. There are too many PhDs.
    56. Grading is miserable.
    57. Rejection is routine.
    58. The one-body problem.
    59. You pay for nothing.
    60. The tyranny of the dissertation.
    61. Unstructured time.
    62. You have no free time.
    63. Your friends pass you by.
    64. Smugness.
    65. Teaching is less and less rewarding.
    66. “Why are you studying that?”
    67. There is a star system.
    68. It is stressful.
    69. It is lonely.
    70. It is unforgiving.
    71. The tenure track is brutal.
    72. The humanities and social sciences are in trouble.
    73. Perceptions trump reality.
    74. Academic conferences.
    75. You can make more money as a schoolteacher.
    76. There is a culture of fear.
    77. It attracts the socially inept.
    78. It takes a toll on your health.
    79. The tyranny of procrastination.
    80. “When will you finish?”
    81. Comprehensive exams.
    82. Teaching is moving online.
    83. It narrows your options.
    84. The politics are vicious.
    85. It is not a ticket to the upper middle class.
    86. It is a state of being.
    87. The financial rewards are decreasing.
    88. You are not paid for what you write."


    Carry on with your conversation.

  9. It's from Da Crampicul, but it's directly relevant to our topic: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/28/just-say-no-to-endlessly-revised-textbooks/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

  10. Lol'ing at the kid who takes a "bad" professor to get out of buying the books Seems to be a pretty self-defeating exercise--to throw a bunch of money away on one thing to get out of paying for another thing. That's real snowflake logic.

    I feel heartless here, but I really don't have a lot of sympathy for people who bitch a lot about textbooks. Textbooks have always been expensive--it's just part of the overhead of going to college. I do my best to minimize the costs for my own students, but no, I am not going to scan PDFs for them, or put the entire semester's worth of reading online. My neediest students get government assistance for text books, so I advise people who are experiencing genuine hardship to see the financial aid office. Eye-rolling at the students who say that they have to choose between groceries and textbooks--I wonder if they've first eliminated cable, internet, and smartphones from their budget.

  11. Liars and thieves,lazy entitled punks with no moral grounding.

    They want something for nothing and rarely, if ever, understand why they lead lives of mediocrity.

    The best part is, some of these weasels (apologies to real weasels)will actually make their sleazy way into positions of authority and responsibility.

    I fear for our future if this is what our institutions of higher learning are turning out.

  12. Liars and thieves,lazy entitled punks with no moral grounding.

    They want something for nothing and rarely, if ever, understand why they lead lives of mediocrity.

    The best part is, some of these weasels (apologies to real weasels)will actually make their sleazy way into positions of authority and responsibility.

    I fear for our future if this is what our institutions of higher learning are turning out.

  13. My problem is with students who take my online course and also do not want to buy the book. What are they thinking? How do they expect to learn the information? I have taken to making it mandatory to buy the homework manager to participate in my online class. Then, at least, they have a digital copy of the textbook, to reference.

  14. The problem is not just that they're expensive and bulky, it's that they're bad (compared to what was available 30h ago; referring to intro math classes here.)

    I've tried a few things: basing the course on my own notes, using Dover texts (very inexpensive, many excellent ones, available for every topic, I sound like a commercial). But I gave up, since students hate it: they want the standard textbook, no matter how expensive. Not least so they can copy homework solutions found somewhere.

    So let them pay for it. I could write my own homework sets and allow them to use any edition of the book, but why create more work for myself when I'll be punished for it? Beaker Ben's rule applies: let them copy at will and get their C- for showing up, what do I care.

  15. That was "30 years ago" in the first paragraph. Not enough coffee.


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