Tuition is not the problem, books are!

Post Image On Friday, the Board of Governors at the University of Alberta approved a 4.6% increase in tuition fees. That translates to an extra $215.55 for general arts and science students. Of course the decision made the local news and predictably the segments focused on the extra burden this places on students.

But more than teaching or deferred maintenance, it was the question of affordability that concerned Students’ Union President Michael Janz.

Janz stressed that every time fees are increased, the debt loads that students incur go up, as do the chances that someone will not apply to the U of A because they see it as financially unfeasible.

I mean, what do you expect the SU President to say? Of course he’s got to side with students on the issue, that’s his job.

I think the focus should not be on tuition, however. Looking back on my time at the university, I think the problem are textbooks. Sure tuition is expensive and I am repaying student loans now, but it was textbooks that were the real killer.

In my last two years, I avoided purchasing textbooks whenever possible. The idea of spending $175 for a 150 page book just drove me nuts. Especially since most of the content in the books can be found elsewhere. The other thing that sucks is when a professor requires the latest edition of a textbook, meaning students cannot purchase the less expensive old editions.

There’s no reason to force students to purchase ridiculously expensive textbooks. Hell, there’s pretty much no reason to have physical textbooks at all! Just offer digital versions instead. Or incorporate free materials.

I think getting rid of the expensive textbooks would help students far more than trying to prevent tuition increases.

Read: The Gateway

Book Wishlist

Post ImageI went and bought my first textbook of the semester today. I picked up “Rethinking Society in the 21st Century: Critical Readings in Sociology” from the UofA Bookstore, and I even waited in line to pay – do I feel like a student now or what! In any case, I got to thinking about some other books I want to read, so here’s a brief list (omitting subtitles), in no particular order:

  • The Search by John Battelle
    This book really interests me, and it’s recieved some really great reviews thus far. Plus, I read and enjoy John’s blog all the time, so I am pretty certain I’d enjoy the book too.
  • The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil
    The man is a great thinker and theorist, and so his comments on the content in this book (artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, human longevity, etc.) are particularly intriguing. I read JD Lasica’s review today, and despite the warnings of being very dense in places, I think I’d really enjoy reading the book.
  • The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil
    If I am going to read the new book, I figure I should read this one too. Sounds like it sets up much of the content in the new book.
  • Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright
    Another book by a blogger I read all the time! I was fortunate enough to be a reviewer for Jeremy on this book, though I probably wasn’t really that helpful! I really should have this book by now, I just haven’t gotten around to ordering it.
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
    I picked this book up in Chapters the last time I was there and read the jacket and a page or two and it seemed quite fascinating. Unfortunately I didn’t buy it at the time as I had a list of other books I needed to get first, but it’s definitely one I’d like to read.

All non-fiction books, strangely enough! I haven’t read much fiction lately now that I think about it, not nearly as much as I used to. Of course, I still don’t have the textbooks for my other two classes!

Trading textbooks for laptops

Post ImageIn case you missed it, we’re in the year 2005 now, and I don’t know about you but I expected far more schools to have laptops by now:

An Arizona high school is set to become one of the first ebook-only schools, as it preps to hand out laptops to 350 students this fall. The cost for the laptops at Vail High School will be about $850 per student, compared to about $600 for textbooks. The school plans to supplement electronic versions of traditional textbooks with online articles assigned by teachers.

I like the idea of using computers in school for more than just “computer class” or research in the library. Seems to me that Tablet PC’s would be better suited for a classroom environment, but maybe the price is still a little prohibitive.

Read: Engadget

Advertising in textbooks – bad idea!

Post ImageOne of my biggest disappointments with University so far is that the textbooks we are forced to buy really are not that useful. Not to mention they are outrageously expensive. I can use a computer textbook in one class for example, but probably not any others. And the chances of me using it outside of school are rather slim, considering the content gets updates so frequently. But I guess things are not as bad as they could be as Larry Borsato notes:

For the past several months, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., one of the country’s largest publishers of university textbooks, has been quietly trying to coax companies into buying advertising space in their texts.

“Reach a hard to get target group where they spend all their parents’ money,” says a McGraw-Hill brochure touting its planned ads. “Do you really think 18-24 year olds see those on-campus magazine ads? Do you really think they could miss an ad that is placed in a very well-respected textbook?”

Considering I avoid assigned readings like the plague, I for one wouldn’t be seeing the ads. Seriously though, I don’t think advertisements have any place in a textbook. And as soon as the ads make it into the books, the flood gates are open. Consider a business textbook that features advertising by a company like McDonalds. What are the chances that the publishing company will use an example of McDonalds’ business in their textbook that doesn’t make the fast food chain look good? Especially if the publishing companies come to rely on ad dollars.

Everything about the idea spells bad news to me. Larry says that “if they want to give the textbooks to students for free then that’s fine. But there’s no way that I’m paying $100 for a textbook full of ads, especially one the school forces me to buy.” I agree for the most part, I’d put up with advertising in order to get the books for free, but I don’t think the integrity of a textbook can be protected when money starts exchanging hands for page space.

So on the off chance that I actually choose to read my textbook, I’d rather know that what I am reading is there because the author thought it was important, not because advertising dollars paid for it to be written.

Read: Toronto Star