Textbook costs obscene

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

October 26, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Even after tuition is paid, there are a host of significant costs a university student must face annually. One of the more extensive costs is the marked-up price on school textbooks.

Despite a credit of $500 from the Canadian Government, many students at Western spend upwards of $1,000 for a year’s supply of texts. Students at Western and across Canada are burdened with book costs that are crippling on a meager student budget.

A university textbook is a specialized intellectual commodity, so it is fair to expect them to be reasonably expensive. However, the shrewd tactics of publishing companies and book store mark-ups edict the high prices.

Publishing companies frequently release new editions of existing texts, often with minimal changes to the book’s content. University bookstores will always carry the newest editions of these texts, making existing copies continually obsolete.

In Western’s case, the Used Bookstore on campus will not buy back many copies of students’ texts, as a new edition has since been released that quickly becomes mandatory on course reading lists. As a result, it is difficult for students to defray any of their textbook costs once they are finished with the books.

Another problem for students " particularly first-year students " is they are suckered into buying every book on all their course reading lists, sometimes unnecessarily. Many wide-eyed frosh feel nervous about embarking on their post-secondary academics; students and parents alike immediately purchase every book required out of a need to feel prepared.

If first years waited a week or two before buying their books, they could gauge which purchases were required and save a lot of money. Hence, perhaps some of the culpability should be on Western’s administration: it does nothing to dispel the paranoid purchases and impulse buys of “supplementary” textbooks.

There are several other elements that would make textbook costs more manageable for Western students. For one, the D.B. Weldon Library could make more books available on reserve. Professors generally keep a copy available for students, but there needs to be more at the ready so there is an alternative for those who cannot afford such high-priced books.

The government could also offer students a higher textbook tax credit. Canada has a modern economy needing workers with specialized skills, so further subsidization of schoolbooks is a worthwhile investment " it should be a priority to educate future taxpayers.

Unfortunately, textbook purchasing at universities has become a case of “buyer beware.” It is a shame that such an essential school commodity is a heavy burden on students.

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