Talk of textbook costs is nothing new. In 2005, William K. Townsend Professor of Law Ian Ayres published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that textbooks should be included in the cost of tuition. Last year, the Yale College Council piloted a course packet exchange. Even Congress has gotten on board — the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act included a provision requiring universities to provide students with information about the cost of their books.
As the News noted last Friday, Yale is working to comply with this law by providing information through OCI. While a good starting point, this initiative should only be a beginning.
In the age of the internet and iPads, there should be few, if any, course packets. We have access to almost any major journal article as well as most of the content from newspapers and magazines dating back hundreds of years. Instead of dropping off a packet at Tyco, professors could simply provide scanned articles or even just links to online content. Indeed, many already do.
Of course, some classes still require books. Afterall, a textbook is invaluable for chemistry. Many history and English courses use sets of books that aren’t available on the web. For these courses, the question is not how to do away with course material, but how to mitigate the costs of acquiring them.
One way would be to institute a rental system, like those already in place at more than 300 campus bookstores. Another would be to tell students how much they can resell their books for when the year ends.
In the meantime, we should take advantage of the resources we have. At press time, 798 books were available on YaleStation, often for less than the cover price. Most books are also available on sites like Amazon. And there is always the library, even if just on closed reserve.
At this time of year, creating a schedule already relies on too many factors. The cost of books or materials shouldn’t be one.