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Friday, June 8, 2018

Prof Vents about Textbook Rentals

Does renting textbooks save students money or cost them the real value of a college education? Sheila Liming, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, makes a case for the latter in an opinion column for Inside Higher Education.

“A degree used to mean learning from texts and racking up a cumulative store of skills and reference materials along the way,” she wrote. “But with the rise of textbook rentals, the rules of learning are getting rewritten, and not by education professionals, and not in accordance with the needs of student consumers, either.”

Her issue with rentals is they’re promoted as a cost-savings option but there are limits to how students can access and use the materials. Those are roadblocks that inhibit critical thinking and conversation, according to Liming.

“Rental companies insist that a given book can only be ‘useful’ to a student for the duration of a single semester, and so encourage students to see their own learning as fated for expiration and uselessness,” she said. “Even worse, rental companies and vendors—including campus bookstores—actively discourage students’ efforts to use the text they have rented, since wear and tear threatens the longevity of a book that a vendor wants to re-rent over and over again.”

To Liming, rental is just the latest “scheme” to make a buck, and is doing so at the expense of students’ education, depriving them of the ability to look back at previous classes or assignments to gauge their progress.

“Students are paying more and being coerced into renting because they are told they must, and  because they have not been made aware of their options,” she concluded. “It is therefore up to education professionals to show them—and to fight for the expansion of—worthy, cost-friendly alternatives, including both OER (open educational resources) and affordable print editions. Those alternatives do exist, and anyone who says differently is, as the saying goes, probably selling something.”

Liming may have a point when it comes to affordable alternatives for her English classes, but what about required texts for introductory biology or chemistry classes? Do students with other majors actually want to keep them to reflect back on and will they ever consider those textbooks affordable?

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