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Opinion

College tuition is expensive enough, let alone the textbooks

College students can't really afford $200-plus on a textbook. Why not go textbookless?

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So publishing reps compete for their piece of the multibillion-dollar pie, throwing book release parties with refreshments and gifts for faculty, including free examination copies. Additionally, they lure professors to tweak and rewrite new editions each year, to render obsolete the slightly used copies and create new demand.

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The cost of college textbooks has been the subject of legislative efforts in more than 30 states recently. Solutions?

A federal law to take effect in July requires advance disclosure of prices for faculty and students, and it will prohibit “bundling” texts with workbooks, CDs, and so on, unless requested. (Six states have already passed similar measures.)

Unfortunately, the professors who haven’t been demanding price information in the first place, are the same who give little thought to assigning a $200 science book instead of a $35 alternative.

But a dramatic federal bill proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois would allow licensing of “open college textbooks” on the Internet for free use by everyone.

The trick is getting that one past conservative business interests and corporate publishing lobbyists, in a Senate that’s no longer filibuster-proof.

Concerned faculty, however, needn’t leave students at the mercy of a gridlocked legislature.

I closely reviewed “Elements of Argument,” the $72 volume required for Composition II by our department. The instructional material is little changed from the writing principles I’ve been teaching for two decades with $20 college handbooks. The only difference is in the readings, which comprise essays from periodicals on topics of interest in the past two or three years.

But these are essays my students can read on the college library Internet data bases, which they have already paid for!

So why not toss the textbooks altogether?

After all, they are generally written by professors. And any of us worth our chalk can present skills and concepts directly and more interestingly, while directing students to the latest literature downloadable for no extra charge, at their fingertips.

In disciplines other than my own, whether law, medicine or math, the best and latest literature is also available more readily online, than on Mom’s credit card.

Since the dawn of the Internet age, many institutions have gone “paperless,” to save money, as well as the environment.

Perhaps it’s time universities go “textbookless,” to free our students from the expensive tyranny of Bedford, Pearson, Prentice Hall, and Houghton Mifflin.

David McGrath, professor emeritus, College of DuPage, currently teaches at Edison State College in Fort Myers, and is author of “The Territory.”

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