Staff Editorial

By The Mac Weekly

While we commend Aaron Brown and his fellow MCSG members on working to ameliorate the problem of exorbitant textbook prices, we also recognize that textbook prices still remain burdensome for many students.Under the newly recommended program, the administration would allocate funds to buy four of the most expensive and widely used textbooks-from economics, chemistry, and math classes. These books are then available for loan from the library.

Despite our school’s efforts to help students cope with the high costs of textbooks, students who don’t qualify for the scholarship program or who take classes outside of the three disciplines mentioned above still must deal with prices that have increased at four times the rate of inflation since 1994. Clearly, the blame does not solely fall upon the bookstore or the administration’s inability to provide aid. Economics can explain much of the sharp hike in textbook prices.

Following the consolidation trend that has swept through the corporate world, the textbook industry has gone from being composed of several dozen companies to five. Lack of competition means higher prices.

Online textbook sellers and renters are competitors that college bookstores did not face ten years ago. The difficulty of predicting demand in an age where textbooks can be bought more cheaply and more efficiently online can also put a dent in the bookstore’s business plan. If the bookstore underestimates the number of students who plan to purchase a textbook online, it is left with unsold copies of the book and must swallow the loss. This cost is passed on to students in the price of textbooks in subsequent semesters.

Another problem that contributes to high prices is that professors, who choose the textbooks, are not responsible for purchasing them. Professors have no economic incentive to keep textbook prices low, and like the doctor who prescribes his patient the top-of-the-line medicine without regard to cost, students find themselves purchasing textbooks that are marginally higher in quality but exponentially higher in price. A professor’s insistence on pedagogical rigor can drain students’ wallets.

Publishing companies print superfluous amounts of new editions of textbooks, undoubtedly to increase their sales. Professors, who, again, are not financially on the hook, have no qualms ordering marked-up, barely changed new editions.

While it seems that the textbook market consprires to target students’ checkbooks, there are some things that we can do. We should Encourage professors to choose less expensive textbooks and ask them to justify the selection of a new textbook when a previous edition is still available. Along with the Macalester College Textbook Scholarship program, which provides aid to students already stressed for funds, our administration has already taken significant steps to counteract the pitfalls of a market that increasingly punishes students.

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College