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Custom textbooks made for a single university

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I was surprised to recently learn that one of dd's classes required a special textbook that is custom published for her specific university. And not surprisingly, very expensive. Apparently it also changes every year and requires a code for use of associated online features. Talk about trying to prevent strapped parents from searching out a deal!

 

However, she also got an email from the department saying that they would be offering a few "scholarships" to cover the cost of the book. To apply, she had to submit our FAFSA, an application and write an essay. It was stated in the email that preference would be given to students majoring in that field, which dd is not.

 

I encouraged her to apply anyway and she got one! She picked up her book and other materials the first day of classes. So just a heads up if any of your dc come into contact with this kind of thing, that it may be worth applying for a scholarship, even if not a major. IMO, most of the kids were just anxious to get the book - it was only available about a week prior to the start of classes - so they were willing to pay anything.

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The textbook/online code cost situation is totally out of control.  

 

A customized textbook?  Really?

Edited by goldberry
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It's maddening! DD has one university-specific textbook this semester.

 

DD is learning and asking a lot of questions to the upperclassmen about which professors REALLY require the books and online codes.

 

As of now, she has a $280 Biology textbook with the online code. Her first class was yesterday - and she found out (from other students who aren't freshmen) that she didn't *really* need either because the professor tests off her lectures and covers everything in class.

 

She'll need the book for Bio II, but I'm figuring that that online code probably is only good for one year?

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This irritates me so much. The textbook companies are pushing these so heavily because it kills the resale market, and so you end up with "custom editions" when there really is absolutely no need. Yes, do check with upperclassmen. 

 

I use the online codes but I specifically tell them all that the book is 100% optional and that there is an online book included with the code, so don't get it unless you really like to have a hardback book, and if you want the book for reference only, buy a used edition. If you have a class with a code, check to see if this is an option for you. 

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Congrats on the scholarship!

Our college uses custom editions a lot.  It annoys me to no end.  Combined with online access codes, resale or buying used is impossible.  

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Congrats on the scholarship. Ds has one custom book this year. Over $200. It really ticked me off.

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The bookstore told my dd to wait until she got to class for the professors to say whether the books are necessary. One of her professors said to buy an old edition.

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Yes, we've been through this twice now, at two different schools. Chaps my hide every time.

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I had a custom textbook for one of my graduate courses.  As far as I could see, the only difference was that this text had an extra chapter added to the beginning.  Somehow, the customization also resulted in the reference list being removed, which is *not* good!  Oh, and the spine doesn't have the book title on it, it just says "Pearson Custom Education" which is totally annoying.

Edited by EKS

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Dd has a custom text - it was only $10.  Can't gloat though, as she had two or three non-customs in the $150-200 range, and we're going to get hammered with project supplies.  

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My dd had one of those too, for a freshman seminar class.  She first picked up one that was a year old and far cheaper, but on her first day of class her professor told her that it was absolutely necessary that she get the newest edition.  So she did, but she left it in the package, untouched, to see how long she could go with the year-old one.  

 

She actually made it through the entire class easily with the year-old one.  She never even needed to break the plastic on the newest one.  At the end of the semester, she was able to sell it to someone who was taking that same class second semester of the same year.

 

It was very frustrating to know that the students were being required to buy the newest one which was probably $200 instead of the $30 used one, when in the end the used one was fine.

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Back 15 years ago, I had a "custom abridgment" for an engineering class. I guess it was supposed to save us money or something, idk - it cost $90, so still on the pricey side for books at the time, but the giant unabridged edition could have been $150, so maybe it was a savings of sorts.

 

But what really *burned* me was that our custom abridgment for our particular class at our particular university - it did not contain one of the chapters that was taught :svengo:. We still had the full index (and maybe the full toc, too) so I was able to look up the topic and see where it was taught, only to find that we did not have the chapter itself. So very frustrating - esp as I *much* preferred being able to read the book and work examples on my own time instead of having to solely rely on what was said in class. (I once bought a text the professor said we didn't need, because his lectures were sufficient, just so I could have a book to study from.)

Edited by forty-two
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That is so annoying.  I had a prof who had us buy his sucky self-published book as a text.  That was self-interested but I wonder what the motivation is for the profs to recommend the special texts - it's good for the publishers obviously.

 

I lucked out in my department - the only specially made things we had were designed of open source stuff that we would have had to buy a number of different books to have, so they would put it in one photocopied book that cost under $10.

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Sometimes the custom textbooks actually cost less than buying used.

 

When I taught at the local CC, we had a custom bindup that would have required buying three books for $220 plus a $150 access code for $370. The bindup with code was $210. If a student found a used copy of the book, I had savings code that gave them the web access for $75. That said, you wouldn't believe how many professors didn't know that we had a discount code. I had quite a few students with friends in other classes who got it from me.

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Horray for your daughter!

 

I think those situations are such a racket...

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Here's a new one we ran into this semester: not only is the text a custom edition for the specific school, it is sold only as loose-leaf so the bookstore won't buy it back at the end of the semester and it is not available as a rental. 

 

 

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Here's a new one we ran into this semester: not only is the text a custom edition for the specific school, it is sold only as loose-leaf so the bookstore won't buy it back at the end of the semester and it is not available as a rental.

We encountered that. For a required PE class no less. Aggravating.

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Here's a new one we ran into this semester: not only is the text a custom edition for the specific school, it is sold only as loose-leaf so the bookstore won't buy it back at the end of the semester and it is not available as a rental. 

 

*gasp* DD's 1 custom textbook for this semester was only sold as loose-leaf! I didn't mentally connect those dots yet! They won't buy it back!

 

Well. Huh. :glare:

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Congrats to your daughter! On the whole, I dislike custom textbooks; they are generally not as good as it previously published texts because their purpose is often to save students money (which they don't really), and not to give students the best textbook possible. At the University where I teach, we have custom textbooks for bio 101 and 102 students. They do this because bio 101 is often taken as a course to fulfill General Ed requirements, and the student doesn't need the bio 102, so they only sell the last half of the book to bio 102 student. The problem is when a student needs to reference something in the other half of the text they don't own and then they are SOL.

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I flat out tell my students in the first class to return the current version of the lab guide and get the previous version on Amazon, used, for much less. At the undergraduate level, biology lab guide information really has not changed from the previous edition. The textbook situation at most colleges is a major racket.

 

What really gets me is when they require you to buy a custom textbook (in one case $100 for a slim lab guide) and then barely use it in the course.

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What really gets me is when they require you to buy a custom textbook (in one case $100 for a slim lab guide) and then barely use it in the course.

 

What do you consider "use it in the course"?

 

I do not ever have my students bring the book to class and do not use the book in class for anything. They are, however, required to read prior to coming to lecture. The fact that barely 25% of students bother to do this assignment does not mean we are not "using" the book for the course.

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I just wish we were not required to micromanage our college students in the US but could treat them as adults.

My profs announced several books that are helpful for the class at the beginning of the semester and let it be up to students which books they acquired (buy or borrow), and how intensively they worked with them. At the end, the grade reflected how much work the student put into the class, and that included the self motivated notetaking and summarizing of books for various topics where the student felt the lecture material could use supplementation for a thorough understanding.

Much of the textbook calamity stems from the requirement to spoon feed students and to serve them everything on a silver platter and break the info into sound bites - instead of letting them be in charge of their education, with all the consequences if they fail to live up to the responsibility, instead of penalizing instructors for their student's failures.

One can dream, right?

 

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What do you consider "use it in the course"?

 

I do not ever have my students bring the book to class and do not use the book in class for anything. They are, however, required to read prior to coming to lecture. The fact that barely 25% of students bother to do this assignment does not mean we are not "using" the book for the course.

 

I'm not exactly sure as it was my daughter who told me about it. She did make an 'A' in the course & lab so things went okay, but she said the lab book was barely referenced.

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This is our first year with college level (community college dual enrollment) at a large cc with a good reputation. It's been a real eye-opener for me. I'm a pre-planner, so the idea of waiting until the first day of class to get the book for a twice a week or more class is driving me a bit batty. How is one going to have any time to try to find and order any books for the student to have access for initial assignments, or know how much to budget? I've had other folks tell me that they have had kids find out the first day of class at least one of the books was unnecessary or that there's a discount code from the teacher for something. These are very standard beginning level classes, so there shouldn't be this level of "surprise." She does have two custom-published books for very basic classes (ENG 111 and a required one credit transfer success course).

 

My daughter registered for her August classes in May. Naively, I expected that when a class was open for registration, that meant they had a teacher for that class with a syllabus and textbook list. Naively, I also expected that a student would be required to have all materials and books ready on the first day, even that some professors might have sent an assignment ahead of time that was due the first day, so you should have things prepared. 

 

Just this semester we've run into:

  • No listing of name of professor for English class until the day before class started, and that professor wasn't even in the online staff directory so couldn't be contacted even if we had known her name. Surprise!
  •  You can order your textbooks online from the campus bookstore but you won't know until you go to pick them up whether you were able to get a used or rental, even if used or rental copies are listed on the website and are what you ordered. It's a total crapshoot. I can place an order, but not know if my credit card will be charged $150 or $500, it evidently depends on the whim of the person pulling the order. Surprise!
  • The ASL dept listed one book as required on the bookstore website for order, then changed it to something entirely different less than a week before classes started. Book wasn't even available in the bookstore until a week after classes started. Surprise!
  • English 111 class listed the custom book as 12th edition, we got it used from a current student who had just taken the class this summer. When we did a final check of the bookstore online (when we found out about the ASL change), the book was now listed as the 15th edition with a different ISBN. Too late to do anything, so I told her to take the book to class and ask. She checked the physical bookstore that morning and they were selling the 12th edition only, the same one she had--it was evidently a misprint on the website. Surprise!
  • This satellite campus only has three buildings, but they all have the same name, so it was very hard to figure out in which building a class was being held and no explanation anywhere of the numbering system, had to figure it out as she went along. She got two different building locations from different staff members for the same classroom. One class, which had announced via email/text that students would be penalized if they were even 5 minutes late to class on the first day, had switched unannounced to a different room. Surprise!

To me, none of this is treating the student like an adult. Treating the student like an adult would be providing accurate information in adequate time for the student to make informed decisions about registration based on schedule, cost involved, instructor, etc. This feels like being jerked around needlessly because of poor planning on the college's part.

Edited by KarenNC
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What do you consider "use it in the course"?

 

I do not ever have my students bring the book to class and do not use the book in class for anything. They are, however, required to read prior to coming to lecture. The fact that barely 25% of students bother to do this assignment does not mean we are not "using" the book for the course.

When I was in college I was required to but a textbook for my Texas history class. the professor never once referenced it, never once required reading from it, never once assigned any questions from it, etc. The exams were ENTIRELY based on his lectures, which consisted of nothing more than political rants. I wish I were joking. It was BY FAR the absolute WORSE college course I took. It was horrible. I never cracked open the book, but got an A in the course because I was willing to subject myself to his tri-weekly rantings.

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  • No listing of name of professor for English class until the day before class started, and that professor wasn't even in the online staff directory so couldn't be contacted even if we had known her name. Surprise!

 

That is very common and can have several reasons. Many colleges have those introductory classes taught by adjuncts, and the department may not know which adjuncts will be working for them. (Sometimes adjunct instructors quit the week before classes start because they got a real job.) Also, sometimes there is a certain pool of instructors, not just adjuncts, who are going to teach intro courses, but until final enrollment figures are there the department cannot allocate sections. It may, for example, turn out that a class has low enrollment and gets canceled, and that frees an instructor to teach something else.

 

In our department's introductory, the only thing that is known when students sign up is the professor in charge of the course. Who teaches which recitation section is decided a few days before classes start, based on a variety of factors.

 

Students could, however, contact either the instructor overseeing the entire course, or the department, to receive more information about required materials.

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That is very common and can have several reasons. Many colleges have those introductory classes taught by adjuncts, and the department may not know which adjuncts will be working for them. (Sometimes adjunct instructors quit the week before classes start because they got a real job.) Also, sometimes there is a certain pool of instructors, not just adjuncts, who are going to teach intro courses, but until final enrollment figures are there the department cannot allocate sections. It may, for example, turn out that a class has low enrollment and gets canceled, and that frees an instructor to teach something else.

 

In our department's introductory, the only thing that is known when students sign up is the professor in charge of the course. Who teaches which recitation section is decided a few days before classes start, based on a variety of factors.

 

Students could, however, contact either the instructor overseeing the entire course, or the department, to receive more information about required materials.

 

Thanks, if we run into this in future, I'll suggest she contact the department to see if they know. Hopefully in a situation like that there is at least a fairly standard syllabus and required materials, as it doesn't sound like the individual instructors would have time to create their own totally unique syllabus.

 

By professor in charge of the class, I am guessing you mean something like a large lecture class of 100+ students where the main professor lectures and then students are broken out into subsections under teaching assistants for study/lab sessions? They don't have anything of that size at this particular community college.

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By professor in charge of the class, I am guessing you mean something like a large lecture class of 100+ students where the main professor lectures and then students are broken out into subsections under teaching assistants for study/lab sessions? They don't have anything of that size at this particular community college.

 

Yes, that is one scenario. But other departments who run multiple sections of the same class that do not involve large lectures often also have an instructor in charge or course coordinator; this person is in charge of setting common  standards and coordinating the section assignment and does not necessarily have to teach any of the sections himself.

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For my dd15's dual credit College Composition textbook (yes, a custom one), I remember looking at prices last spring right after she registered and thinking that it would be easy to find a used copy at a low price. But I wanted to wait until the syllabus came out just in case they decided to change the text. Well, by early August I was having trouble finding a used copy for under $150. I finally was able to get one on Ebay for $18 (whew!). But I wish I could have been sure earlier that they were using that textbook, so that I could have taken advantage of the low prices while everyone was trying to sell theirs in May. I almost feel like it might be worth buying in the spring even if I'm not sure, and then selling the book to Amazon or something if they end up changing to a different text.

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Oh yes and this is why ds is paying $238 for a math text instead of getting one used for $50.

 

Not happy but no way around it.

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I've often seen advice to wait till the first day of class before buying textbooks to make sure you really need them, but it seems like that way you'd always be stuck paying the highest price because that is the time of highest demand.

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Also, sometimes there is a certain pool of instructors, not just adjuncts, who are going to teach intro courses, but until final enrollment figures are there the department cannot allocate sections. It may, for example, turn out that a class has low enrollment and gets canceled, and that frees an instructor to teach something

This is exactly the situation where I teach. It's just as frustrating for instructors as for students.

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