EDITORIAL: Time for textbook standardization

Textbooks are notoriously pricey. The University estimates that the average student would spend $400 to $800 a semester to buy all of his or her books. Emphasis on the “would.” Many students don’t buy all of their books – 7 percent according to the University. Our guess is that the number of students who skip buying a book or two each semester is higher.

So why don’t students buy books? The price, of course, is a main factor. Combined with the fact that students can rarely sell their books back for a 50 percent return, textbooks sometimes seem like a bad investment. Some of the books are never even opened – and not because students are lazy. It’s not uncommon for professors to overestimate the progress their classes in a semester. Overly ambitious syllabi equal unused books.

Students only receive 50 percent of the book cost back for their purchases at the end of the semester if these books are being readopted – and the same edition kept by professors. Frank Henninger, director of the University Shop, said that only 60 percent of faculty submit readoption forms by the deadline. If faculty fail to submit the forms, students cannot get money back for their books.

Not only do faculty need to make a concerted effort to get their forms in on time, but the overall communication between the bookstore, faculty and department heads needs to be improved.

Students are deprived of the option to sell their books back when faculty choose new editions of the same book for their classrooms. Although it’s important to keep learning current, a new edition often changes little from the previous one. Instead, professors should aim to keep the same textbooks for longer periods of time and add supplemental articles, which students can print with their print allowances, to compensate.

When the University Shop can order books in bulk it lowers the initial cost to students and makes book buybacks simpler because readoption is more likely. Currently, though, the same classes, taught by different professors, often use many different books.

The psychology department, for example, uses 17 different books for its introductory class, depending on the professor. This is only one example. Very few departments standardize their book orders.

Book standardization could be led by department chairs with the cooperation of professors. Books would be cheaper and more students could sell their books back, which would in turn motivate more students to buy books in the first place – something that professors should welcome.

The prices won’t drop dramatically, but the University Shop and the Office of Academic Affairs are already working on this effort, trying to reduce costs by 20 to 25 percent according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Craig Wheeland.

In the meantime, professors and department chairs should standardize textbooks to reduce costs and simplify buying and reselling for students. When we go to sell our textbooks back next week, we’ll all be reminded of how these small changes could help our wallets.