Textbook affordability lacks in general education courses

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

The date to return textbooks to campus bookstores has passed. You paid a pretty penny or sold a kidney on the black market to get the so-called “required” texts for your courses. (We hope you didn’t sell your kidney.) For better or worse, you’re committed to them, unless you opt for a sell-back price that will make you weep quietly to yourself. 

The cost-estimated $1,400 spent on textbooks and supplies is a semi-annual problem, and it only gets worse each year. According to a Daily Illini report Wednesday, textbook costs rose by 82 percent between 2002 and 2012. The moaning and grumbling that accompanies shelling out for the books is also a semi-annual problem. 

You have every right to moan and groan.

Too often, the professor of a general education course will assign an expensive textbook, and the student won’t even open it, while it sits on a shelf collecting enough dust to make a Swiffer jealous. 

The complaints have been heard, and both the Illinois Student Senate and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have begun their pushback.

ISS’ initiative led by Matt Hill has begun lobbying for more open-source course materials in general education courses. Durbin is co-sponsoring a bill to create a national grant for programs to develop those open-source materials — a Wikipedia of textbooks, if you will. 

But the phrase “open source,” especially when Wikipedia enters the conversation, causes some to shudder. It shouldn’t, though, because the campus already uses publicly available and free information in place of textbooks, as is. 

We take the greatest issue with over-priced general education books because we and many students have found news sites and, yes, Wikipedia to be as useful or more useful than the textbook. They’re easier to understand, more condensed and are a click away.  

Open source can be trusted. If educators monitor the work they put in such a program often, the integrity of it can be maintained. If the class is also encouraged to participate in the site’s maintenance, then the classroom experience has been augmented. Students are then not just passive learners; they are active participants in their education.

It’s not a stretch to ask professors to contribute to a site that’s free because in their daily work they are producing every journal article for free. Those 30-page papers your professors assign? They do those for free.

Open-source material is the backbone of some of the most complex codes of our time. Over the summer, Vanity Fair reported that a large portion of Goldman Sachs software was developed from code available to anyone with an Internet connection.

College is expensive, and tuition rises nationally each year. We need to cut something somewhere, and the opportunity to put a thousand dollars back into students’ pockets is there. We can achieve this, so let’s waste no more time — or money.