Thurman Speaks About the Costs of Textbooks

Historically I've never required students to purchase textbooks, but that was when I taught only computer classes. Now I'm teaching Basic Arithmetic and students are required to buy a specific textbook that sells for over $100. $100 for a Basic Arithmetic book in the 21st century is a joke and students are being gouged.

I've written about textbook costs on numerous occasions always focusing on how much they increase the overall cost of getting an education. Having been a computer professional for twenty-five years, I have spent lots of money on books; it is the cost one has to pay for being in the profession. However, computer professionals are generally well paid and covering book costs is not difficult. This is not true for many college students and it appears as though colleges are doing little to help allay book costs for students.

I submitted a sabbatical proposal that included working with O'Reilly and Associates, a leading publisher of high-tech books, to help bring down (i.e. manage) book costs for students. My sabbatical proposal was rejected.

On Wednesday, 25 August 2004, a student came into my office saying they could not afford the Basic Arithmetic book. This was the second student to report this reality to me. I wrote an email message to my boss asking what to do with these students. After my query, I alerted my boss that I was clueless as to why the book was so expensive. Here is a copy of my email message.

   Date: Wed, 25 Aug 2004 07:11:34 -0700 (MST)
   From: Gerald D. Thurman <gthurman@csnet.sc.maricopa.edu>
   To: ************ <***********@sccmail.maricopa.edu>
   Subject: MAT082 Text Book

   Hello *******...

   I have two MAT082 students who cannot afford the
   text book.  What, if anything, can I do about it?
   [Note:  I don't want to buy the books for them.]

   I don't know why a Basic Arithmetic book in the
   21st century costs almost $100.


   Gerald D. Thurman [CS/CIS Instructor]
   Scottsdale Community College

Because my email message was sent using the Maricopa.edu domain, I cannot share the reply, but the reply basically consisted of the following two responses:

  1. I was told to send the students to the Dean of Students office to get financial help to purchase the book.
  2. I was accused of complaining and that I had no right to complain without getting more actively involved in the book selection process.

An argument could be made that I was attempting to get more involved by admitting my ignorance as to why a Basic Arithmetic book could cost so much. Recall, historically, I've never required students to spend money on books (I recommend that they have a book, but many students can learn from my own instructional materials and other Internet-based resources that virtually eliminate the need for books).

Anyway, during the next class period, I will instruct [with apology] students to visit the Dean of Students if they cannot afford the textbook.

It turned out that on the same day I sent an email message to my boss, the Arizona Republic contained two articles about the cost of college textbooks. The Republic's articles were consistent with my thinking: $100 for a Basic Arithmetic book is a joke.

I posted the following to one of my blogs on 27 August 2004.

EDU::Colleges Enabling Book Publishers To Gouge Students
I want to extend a Thank You to the Arizona Republic for reporting about the high cost of college text books. (Valley and State section on Wednesday, 25 August 2004) Prior to learning about the newspaper's article, I had told my boss at SCC that (quoting myself) "I don't know why a Basic Arithmetic book in the 21st Century cost $100." He replied by telling me to stop complaining. In a nutshell, colleges are enabling book publishers to gouge their students. $100 for a Basic Arithmetic books is not a complaint; it is a joke. [Due to the Arizona Republic's archive practices, the following hyperlink will soon become linkrot. {AzCentral.com:: Muscling down college textbook costs}]

Later I was reading postings to the Arizona Republic's blog. One of the more frequent bloggers is Pete Aleshire. Aleshire is a writer/college instructor who writes about all kinds of stuff. On 25 August 2004, Aleshire wrote about a young man who was shot because he came to the aid of a girl who was being abused by an angry boyfriend. In his blog posting (AzCentral.com::PluggedIn:: My Hero, A Good Man Does Something), Aleshire used the following quote from British political thinker and statesman Edmund Burke:

   "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for 
    good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke  (1729-1797)

Independently of Aleshire, I selected Burke's quote to be my first Quote-of-the-Week for the Fall 2004 semester. Given this synchronization -- coupled with the facts that Alshire is a college instructor and Arizona Republic blogger -- I sent (spammed?) him an email message in which I brought up college textbook costs. I admit that my primary motivation was to get Aleshire to write about this topic to the Arizona Republic's blog. Although my email was potentially spam, Aleshire replied and here is our correspondence. [Thank You Peter Aleshire for allowing me to use your stuff in my stuff.]

   ----- Original Message -----
   From: "Gerald D. Thurman" <gthurman@gmail.com>
   To: <aleshire@cox.net>
   Sent: Thursday, August 26, 2004 3:02 PM
   Subject: Burke's Quote on Good Men


   I start every week with a Quote-Of-The-Week (QOTW).
   Monday (23 August 2004) was the first week of the
   Fall 2004 semester and the first QOTW students saw
   was Burke's quote.  Since 911, "evil" has become a
   commonly used word and I liked how Burke's quote
   from the 1700s was still true today.

   By the way, I appreciated the Arizona Republic
   reporting about the costs of college text books.
   I teach a Basic Arithmetic class and the book
   costs more the $100.  In a nutshell:  colleges
   are enabling book publishers to gouge students.

   Gerald D. Thurman [CS/CIS Instructor]
   Scottsdale Community College

   ----- Reply Message -----

   From Aleshire@cox.net Sat Aug 28 07:47:19 2004
   Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2004 11:07:58 -0700
   From: Peter Aleshire <Aleshire@cox.net>
   To: Gerald D. Thurman <gthurman@gmail.com>
   Subject: Re: Burke's Quote on Good Men

   Thanks for the note.

   I have always loved the Burke quote - it applies across 
   such a sweep of time and circumstance.

   And you're right about the textbooks.

   It's even worse than you suggest - since the college professors 
   are actually in on the scam, since half of them are writing 
   textbooks so they can cash in on the annual victimization of 
   students.  I teach at ASU West and always try to minimize the 
   use of such textbooks. Of course, I teach writing - and other 
   than Elements of Style, haven't  encountered any fancy textbooks 
   worth the cost. Better to make them read good writing - or even 
   bad writing. So half the time I just make them subscribe to 
   the newspaper.

   Anyhow, thanks for the note.

Aleshire's email message made me recall something I had lost sight of: many textbooks are written by college professors.

I've never published a book and I don't know how the pay scale works so let's use the following hypothetical. A professor writes a book for which he gets 10% of the book's selling price. If the book sells for $50, then the professor gets $5; if the book sells for $75, then the professor gets $7.50; if the book sells for $100, then the professor gets $10. In other words, the more money the book sells for, the more money the professor makes. Since students are a "captured" customer base, it is just as easy for the book store to sell 'n' copies of a book at $100 as it for them to sell 'n' copies of the same book at $50. It's basic arithmetic.

Tim O'Reilly and Associates... Good Stuff

Creator: Gerald Thurman [gthurman@gmail.com]
Created: 28 August 2004


Textbooks are a hot topic these days. Today, 2 October 2012, I saw the following news headline: "Arne Duncan Calls For Textbooks To Become Obsolete In Favor Of Digital." I edited this ThurmSpeaks in order to eliminate some of the more blatant grammer errors; however, the grammer in this ThurmSpeaks still sucks. Please do not show it to any English teachers.

   "Education Secretary Arne Duncan is calling for printed 
    textbooks to become obsolete within the next few years."
    -- HuffingtonPost.com on 2 October 2012

Today, 1 April 2014, I supported the Affordable College Textbook Act (S.1704/H.R.3538). [Note: I might be a fool, but this is not a April Fools joke.] My support was supposedly emailed to John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Krysten Sinema.