Friday, February 8, 2008

Math in the Media - The Price of Higher Ed 2

As a follow up to the last post, the Washington Post this morning contained an article detailing current legislation pending in Congress (passed by the House actually) that addresses many of the costs associated with higher education. While the main thrust of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act is to provide more aid for students of need to attend college, there are provisions in the bill designed to dampen textbook prices.

For instance, forcing publishers to state the price of a textbook up front when promoting a book to a professor for possible use in the classroom (this is not often done currently). And ending the practice of packaging textbooks with tons of rather useless addons which are typically not used in the course and are almost always of little or no value (think of that CD you never touched attached to the inside back cover of your calculus text (well, at least not our book for 108-109)).

A similar bill has also passed the Senate, and now the reconciliation between the two must begin. It is also said in the article that the White House opposes the bill. No threat of a veto, but Bush wuill seek changes before he signs.

I believe it is a good thing that Congress is paying attention. Let's also hope the publishers are....

Math in the Media - The Price of Higher Ed

Interesting editorial in the Washington Post yesterday. Well, interesting to those who aren't constantly confronted with the soaring costs of a university education. The world outside of the Ivory Tower sees clearly the number of zeros in the tuition bill. What those on the inside also face is textbook prices; sometimes over $1000 a year (a stat from the University of Maryland, mentioned in the article).

The article, "Required Reading", correctly details many points that frustrate professors as well as students. One is the extraneous material of little or no value packaged in with the book: CDs with "helpful" software, solutions manuals, study guides, etc. which are then valued greatly by publishers. We don;t use them and do not need them.

Also, when "new editions" come out every two or three years, the "old edition" becomes worthless, both for students retaking a course and for any possible resale of the book. This again keeps prices high. The editorial staff at the Post are correct that at the level of Calculus, there are really no new innovations that would possibly lead to a maor overhaul of the subject. In fact, many of the calculus texts are so overevolved that there is movement in the textbook business to actually pare down the content.

Our choice, seen at right, is a bioled down version of a calculus text. It retains the basic core of the subject while relegating the extra stuff to a publicly accessible website. The result is that the price is at a level of somewhere around 10 years ago. Not great, but there is a recognition amongst publishers that their customers are not happy.

And professors aren't happy either. Some years back at American University, I chose a book for a PDEs class that was $12.95 (it was a reprint of an out-of-print book). I chose it because 1) it was quite adequate for the class, and 2) it was 12 bucks.

Boy, did that get noticed....