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Friday, Mar 24, 2023

Opinion: A new plan to address textbook prices head-on

The Great Books program is one of the two general education tracks for students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The Great Books program is one of the two general education tracks for students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.


The burden of textbooks has become too much for many students to bear. I am not talking about the weight of the books, but rather their price. The expected cost of textbooks at a private, non-profit,four-year university is $1,240, according to CollegeBoard.

My own textbook budget is about $1,000 per year, and while this may seem small compared to my tuition cost, that extra $500 every semester has left me broke and stressed at the beginning of the semester.

For this reason, I have concluded that the administration of Mercer University must take steps to reduce the price of textbooks that students are required to purchase for their classes. 

In particular, the University must institute a price limit on the books and materials that professors make mandatory. 

Now, before the economics department comes for my head, I would like to explain what led me to this solution. It was my frantic searching for cheaper textbooks than the campus bookstore offered and learning the term “principal-agent problem.”

This problem has to do with one party, the agent, having the power to control what decisions that the subordinate party must make, according to The Intelligent Economist.

Simply put, this is when the professor picks the textbooks and class materials without having to be the one who picks up the bill. The students, the ones paying, do not have the control that normal customers have; the students do not have the option of not buying the good. 

There are, as any student would know, ways of working around the issues of price. Oftentimes, books are available as PDFs for a lower price, cheaper versions of materials could be found on sites like Amazon, a friend could loan you the book you need, etc. However, these solutions are simply working around the price and not addressing the issues of the high costs. 

The administration should put into effect a limit on what books could be used in classes based on the price. This price limit would be unique to each department and would take into account the types of textbooks and materials needed for certain classes. An upper-level anatomy class would have different needs from INT 101. 

Furthermore, I propose that the price limit should be created by a committee whose members would include both faculty and students. The purpose of having a mixed board is so that the faculty do not forget the cost the students have to pay, and that the students do not forget the value of a quality textbook. 

As an additional safeguard, all price limits would be contestable. If any professor who feels that they can not give students the high-quality education they demand within the limits set by the board, they can appeal the price limit set for their department or class and have it waived.

While the notion of a price limit on class materials and the creation of a board may seem like the beginning of more needless bureaucracy, they would be small steps toward addressing an issue that plagues all Mercer students. Scholarships and grants oftentimes do not cover the cost of supplies, leaving students who were in need of assistance reaching into their already-beaten wallets.

It is true that some professors take cost into consideration, and, of course, no professor wants to make students pay more than they need to. However, the students need to be actively involved in determining what products they are buying and what they are paying. The heavy burden of textbooks can be carried only by professors and students working alongside each other.


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