What Do Our College Students Learn?

I wrote a three part series (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) on the latest study showing that college students are not learning critical thinking skills. I pointed out that the study was another in a series of little publicized media events. In truth, the public, the colleges and the business world have little desire for critical thinking.

But what do students learn in college?

A faculty member once had a class of students who were not wealthy, not even close. Not all of the students in his class were able to afford textbooks. So, given a choice of textbooks for the next year’s class, he chose one that cost about seventy dollars. The next year, all of his students had the textbook. The very next semester the price of the textbook rose to one hundred and ten dollars. And then two more years slid by and it went up to one hundred and fifty dollars.

This is not an unusual situation with textbook prices. It is, in fact, the common, everyday experience of teachers and students in colleges and universities all over the United States.

Students may not be learning as much critical thinking as some would like, they may not get that much cultural literacy, and they may have only the vaguest concept of the term “civic duty”, but they do know about pricing. I get it in class essays, “You charge as much as you can get.” To them, it is an ethical rule – You must pursue the highest return possible under any circumstance. The students don’t know any other rule. The deeper philosophical concepts of just price and two thousand years of contrary philosophy are not factors here.

I believe I am a good teacher but there is no amount of teaching skill that can equal the cutting edge of another textbook price increase every year. They may not grasp the “statute of frauds” in my business law class but they understand the phrase, “what the market will bear” with perfect clarity.

What are we teaching our students?  Is there any lesson more naked about the nature of the American idea of free enterprise than what students endure each year at the bookstore?

James Pilant

Enhanced by Zemanta

What Do Our College Students Learn?

I wrote a three part series (part 1) (part 2) (part 3) on the latest study showing that college students are not learning critical thinking skills. I pointed out that the study was another in a series of little publicized media events. In truth, the public, the colleges and the business world have little desire for critical thinking.  

But what do students learn in college?

A faculty member once had a class of students who were not wealthy, not even close. Not all of the students in his class were able to afford textbooks. So, given a choice of textbooks for the next year’s class, he chose one that cost about seventy dollars. The next year, all of his students had the textbook. The very next semester the price of the textbook rose to one hundred and ten dollars. And then two more years slid by and it went up to one hundred and fifty dollars.

This is not an unusual situation with textbook prices. It is, in fact, the common, everyday experience of teachers and students in colleges and universities all over the United States.

Students may not be learning as much critical thinking as some would like, they may not get that much cultural literacy, and they may have only the vaguest concept of the term “civic duty”, but they do know about pricing. I get it in class essays, “You charge as much as you can get.” To them, it is an ethical rule – You must pursue the highest return possible under any circumstance. The students don’t know any other rule. The deeper philosophical concepts of just price and two thousand years of contrary philosophy are not factors here.

I believe I am a good teacher but there is no amount of teaching skill that can equal the cutting edge of another textbook price increase every year. They may not grasp the “statute of frauds” in my business law class but they understand the phrase, “what the market will bear” with perfect clarity.

What are we teaching our students?  Is there any lesson more naked about the nature of the American idea of free enterprise than what students endure each year at the bookstore?

James Pilant

Textbooks Are Ridiculously Expensive

No kidding! The Star Telegram reports that there will some changes in the law regarding textbooks. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires that publishers provide professors with detailed information about pricing and any alternatives in formats. Students will no longer have to buy CD’s and other materials formerly bundled with textbooks so you would have to buy them. Now they will all be separate items.

The changes are good but they don’t go far enough. Textbooks can run on average $800 to $1200 per student per semester. Are the almost mathematical predictable (two to three years and 12% on the average more expensive) upgrades to textbooks necessary? What are the profit margins? Are there any cozy deals between professors and book companies?

There is a lot more that can be done. We should as a nation be more supportive of education and those willing to take the time and effort to improve themselves rather than offering them up as casual sacrifices to publisher profits.

See this video on overpriced textbooks –

Stephanie Lewis commented on your post:

“James, I firmly believe in rental programs at schools.  My undergrad college had one such program.  My books were $12 a book with an option to buy.  To get your grades, you had to turn your books in or be charged full price.  They were on 1 year rotations for subjects in which the information changes frequently.   Others were on two-year rotations and the bulk were on 3 year rotations.  At the end of every semester, there would be a book sale to get rid of retired inventory ($1 a book).  Of course, that meant the school had to run its own bookstore and not outsource it to another company and have the storage and staff for its inventory and maintenance, but it was a bargain for me and saved me a boat load in student loan money.  Trust me, next to medical books, art history books are some of the most expensive.  California is currently transitioning all of its state schools to rental programs and has been for a few years.  I firmly believe in rental programs.  BTW, I went to my undergrad college from 1990-1994 and that rental price didn’t change.  Currently, they still only charge $17.50 a book.”

No More Text Books?

No More Text Books?

A Georgia Legislator has introduced a bill to allow school districts the choice of buying electronic media instead of text books. (from the article) –  …the state Board of Education would have to sign off on the change to give local school boards the option of buying Kindles, iPads and other next-generation devices in lieu of bound books.

My question is not whether or not that this is the way children communicate now but whether or not it cuts cost. My principle concern is to cut the costs my students pay for textbooks. In Community College with relatively inexpensive tuition, textbook can account for more than a fourth of student costs. This is not fair.

I would like for the State of Arkansas to consider allowing the replacement of textbooks with electronic media with just such a measure but not just for school districts but for public colleges across the state.

Look at this news article:

James Pilant