Last Wednesday, the controversy surrounding the high prices of textbooks on this campus was again in the spotlight. Approximately one hundred students gathered in front of University Bookstore to present findings about textbook prices, new editions, how exactly professors use these new editions and if in fact they are useful.
Almost every student on this campus can attest that at some point in his or her career, when attempting to sell back a certain book, the bookstore would not take the book back because “a new edition is coming out.”
This is a recurring trend that has become more frustrating in recent years. A WisPIRG (Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group) survey released last week gauged the level of professor support for the frequent release of new textbook editions. The survey demonstrated 65 percent of professors do not use the additional information in fresh editions of previously used textbooks. New information professors say they do not find helpful is delivered mainly in the form of CD-ROMs, workbooks or additional “sidebars” packaged with new textbooks. The survey also found more than 50 percent of professors believe new editions with these added “features” are “rarely” or “never” justified.
We applaud the survey and WisPIRG for bringing to light another reason to fight for lower book prices. Applying pressure to publishing companies to avoid creating unnecessary new editions, if these editions do not significantly benefit students in the classroom, is a step in the right direction.
Buying books online is another step in the right direction, along with organizing books swaps, but why not take the initiative to overhaul the system entirely? Why not implement a book rental system similar to those that other schools have employed successfully?
We recognize that it would be far from feasible to create a comprehensive rental system for such an enormous campus; however, a rental system on a smaller scale would be beneficial for UW students.
Applying the old axiom, we would speculate that 80 percent of students on this campus take 20 percent of the classes offered at UW. Meaning, four out of five students all take many of the same introductory level classes such as Chemistry 103, Political Science 104 and Economics 101, to name just a few of the more popular freshman “feeder” courses.
Why not create a system in which students enrolled in large, frequently offered classes have the opportunity to rent books.
This board has previously stated that a large problem with selling back books is many students do not have an interest in keeping books from many of these introductory level classes, yet have a hard time parting with a $150 book for $25. The simple solution would be to offer students another option: simply rent the book for a semester.
Last week, Associated Students of Madison Co-Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee Faris Rashid told this newspaper that a committee of students, faculty and staff has been set up to explore the issue of high book costs. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Paul Barrows, who was involved in the creation of the committee, also told the Badger Herald, “anything that the university can do to defray or [lower] the costs of textbooks to students is worth looking into.”
A book rental system for popular and large classes is worthy of exploration. It is easy to dismiss the concept as far-fetched and unrealistic, but at one point in time so was online registration for classes. This is an issue students are willing to get behind and could make a significant difference in their college experience at UW and the health of their pocketbooks.