Letter to the Editor: Textbook article missed the mark on costs

A recent News article and editorial on a report about the cost of college textbooks failed to provide an accurate view of the changing nature of college textbooks and missed the mark on textbook costs and options. Today, publishers offer a variety of course material options from which faculty can choose at a wide range of prices. For example, there are more than 200 different textbook choices for introductory psychology starting at $23 retail. Publishers also have cost-saving alternatives such as online texts and e-books, soft-cover editions, textbooks by the chapter or customized textbooks.

As the article notes, tuition and fees are a much larger financial burden for students. Textbooks only represent 5 percent of a four-year student’s higher education expenses. A new and expanding range of publishing technologies are also helping more students pass their courses, stay in school and graduate sooner, saving students time and money while improving their success rates. These new tools are necessary, particularly when more than half of college instructors say this year’s freshmen are not ready for college level studies, according to a recent Zogby International poll.

The survey also found that 79 percent of college-level instructors say their less-prepared students would do “significantly better” in introductory-level courses if they spent more time using supplemental materials, and 90 percent say these students would do better if they made greater use of the assigned textbook.

It should be noted that even the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has praised both alternative and online publishers, as well as major publishers such as Thomson Learning, Pearson Education, Houghton Mifflin and McGraw Hill, for offering lower-cost textbooks, including cheaper paper and online books. Thanks to industry innovations and new technology, publishers are providing students with more choices, better learning tools and more ways to save money.

– Stacy Scarazzo is the assistant director for higher education at the Association of American publishers.

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