The first days of a new semester used to always be the same: students were physically present for class and roll call was taken. Then, professors sketched notes on a chalkboard and explained the required reading, passed physical handouts and prescribed a list of required course materials for sale at the campus bookstore. That scenario is outdated, and not a feasible reality for modern students, who are rebelling by refusing to pay the high cost of textbooks altogether.
More students are working remotely, online, with access to a breadth of cheap or free content options, and professors who impose this outdated model on modern, money-savvy students are missing the mark in the modern marketplace.
Philip Preville, journalist and former Canadian Journalism Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto, recently authored a white paper, The Death of Textbook Publishing and the Future of College Course Content.
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Preville aptly points out the elephant in the classroom: students don’t want to shop for and pay for course materials. They want to access them online for the lowest possible amount, and they are now accessing Open Educational Resources (OER) that provide materials online for free or for a fraction of the regular cost of textbooks.
“The technologies that will define the future will be lower-cost options that students find easiest to use, and that professors find produce the highest quality learning experience for students. The traditional textbook industry is about to go extinct,” Preville writes.
The statistics Preville cites reveal the modern reality. London-based Pearson plc., the world’s largest education company, posted a loss of more than $3 billion last year. Two of America’s largest educational publishers also posted red ink for 2016. Cengage Learning in Boston closed its fiscal year with a loss of $176 million. Meanwhile, in New York, McGraw Hill Education recorded a net loss of $116 million.
And according to a 2014 Inside Higher Ed survey, 65 percent of college students admitted to not purchasing a required textbook because of cost.
Simply put, students’ studies, as with most aspects of their lives, are linked to personal technologies, and it is through those technologies that students are searching for learning materials at the lowest possible cost.
In September 2017, The Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in the U.S. It proposes to establish a system of competitive grants awarded to faculty who develop or adapt OER materials. While the bill’s legislative future remains to be seen, its contents—addressing affordability—could force the industry’s hand.
This rebellion against the cost of textbooks is the norm for a generation of students that views content as something they often don’t need to pay for—and that expects digital content to be cheap, or free. High textbook prices are unjustifiable in an era of online educational technology. Students know that—and they are unwilling to pay.
Why do college textbooks cost so much?