The high cost of college textbooks doesn’t get as much play in the media when the staggering student loan debt is the subject.
Students of higher eduction, their parents and professors should be familiar with the problem of grossly overpriced textbooks. Right? Not necessarily.
Now, one college professor has raised the issue in a thought-provoking Wall Street Journal piece, “The $250 Econ 101 Textbook.”
“We professors are shockingly blind about what our students pay for the textbooks from which we teach these valuable lessons,” writes Craig Richardson, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.
Even on Amazon, the average price of a new copy of “one of the best-selling economics textbooks, ‘Principles of Economics’ by Greg Mankiw, can be more than $250 (and retail for a hardcover edition is about $360),” Richardson says.
Richardson puts overpriced college textbooks into historical perspective.
Since 1985, prices of all consumer goods have about doubled, “but textbook prices have risen sixfold, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” he notes. Why does this issue go mostly under-addressed by state lawmakers, academic administrators and student-parent advocates?
Richardson believes that it’s mainly a problem of price obscurity. Most student buyers of these textbooks are actually unaware of the bloated prices. Moreover, expensive textbooks are paid for over several years, possibly decades, because they are rolled into the cost of tuition and fees.
“Students rarely pay for books out of pocket and instead roll it into their financial-aid package, the professor writes. “So a $250 textbook is now being paid back over decades. It’s a bit like the prospective car owner who pays $400 for optional floor mats when it only adds a few dollars to her monthly payment, yet would never pay cash out of pocket for the same mats.
The easy access to financial aid means “there is no natural binding mechanism on price increases, since the pain of rapidly rising prices is scarcely felt by years of student-loan payments,” writes Richardson.