Missouri college takes textbooks online

With college textbook prices soaring right alongside other college expenses, the average college student now spends upwards of $1,000 per year on textbooks.

One courageous college is innovating to cut the cost of textbooks and save trees: At Northwest Missouri State, 500 students are participating in a digital textbook pilot program. By eliminating the expenses associated with traditional textbooks, colleges can help their students save 50% on their textbook bills with e-Books. And the e-books might actually be better than the traditional tomes. According to NPR, "Some e-textbooks are just on-screen versions of the bound copies. But the newest books are interactive - you can search, mark pages, highlight, and cut and paste passages. You can share notes in a kind of social network with the rest of your class - or even click on a video."

The textbook industry has been a cartel for a long time, with publishers mindlessly pumping out updated editions of books that don't need updating -- like Wheelock's Latin. Most colleges demonstrate little interest in controlling textbook costs because they lack any incentive to do so. The costs of the books are passed straight on to students, who aren't exactly in a position to change schools because of sticker shock at book prices after they've signed up for classes.

Hopefully more colleges and universities will follow Northwest MIssouri State's lead. One Texas A&M professor is even offering his textbook for free to students anywhere online calling it his "gift to the students of the world." Amazon.com is entering the textbook market in a big way by offering textbooks on the Kindle at big discounts.

The e-book format at a discount is a great start to the battle against ripoff publishers, but I think it's just the beginning. For many classes, there is an abundance of free material available online from thousands of different sites that an ambitious professor could cull together into a textbook-free -- and just plain free -- syllabus. That might not work for some of the more high-tech fields but for classes like "Art History 101" and "Conversational Spanish", there really isn't even a need to send students out to buy a textbook in-print or online.

With college across the country raising tuition and fees to compensate for endowent losses and cutbacks in state funding, it has never been more important for colleges to put their brain power into finding alternatives to $1000 per year textbook budgets which are especially crippling for budget-conscious students: A student attending a community college could easily see his tuition bill rise by 30% because of textbooks.
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