Should Professors Be Able to Assign Their Own Textbooks?

Oct 20, 2021

By Jessica Lyons


Textbooks Not Cheap

Buying textbooks represents a major expense for college students and is one that seems to always be on the rise. By the end of the first day of classes, many students are left cringing at the long list of books they have to buy for each course and certainly aren't excited to make the trip to the book store to buy them all.

Depending on the study you look at, the average annual cost for students to buy their books is anywhere from $644 to $900. In July 2005, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, during about the last 20 years, the prices of college textbooks 'have increased at twice the rate of inflation but have followed close behind tuition increases.' On average, the GAO reported, the costs of books increases six percent annually.

Where's the Money Going?

According to the National Association of College Stores, 78% of what students pay for a textbook represents publisher costs. This includes content development, copyrighting, permissions, printing costs and author advances. Of the publisher's costs, 11.7% represents the author's income. So when it comes to buying a $100 book for class, the author, which in some cases can be the professor, is making less than $12 on the sale.

Professors as Authors

Many professors decide to put together the knowledge they've acquired throughout their careers into textbooks that can be used by their colleagues to help teach students. Schools take pride in knowing they have such accomplished professors and sometimes even have a section in their bookstores devoted to books written by faculty, whether they are textbooks or novels. A sign of the success of the textbooks written by professors is when they start to get assigned as required readings for various classes. But should the professor who actually wrote the textbook be able to assign it for their own classes?

To Assign or Not to Assign

In some cases it makes sense for professors to assign their own books to be used in their classes. After all, many times the book's contents has probably been inspired by the courses the professor teaches and might more completely address class topics, eliminating the need for students to buy multiple books. Instead the one book written by the professor could hit on all of the topics he or she plans on teaching. This might end up cutting down on textbook costs as students only have to purchase one instead of several different books.

There are some cases, though, when professors could be unnecessarily assigning their textbooks. If the professor is teaching a course that will only have maybe one topic that the textbook can be used for, it could be a waste for students to have to pay for a book that might only have one chapter they need. In these instances, professors should think about some alternatives before they decide to make their students buy their textbook.

First, professors should see if there are any textbooks they could assign as an alternative that would more completely cover course material. When compiling the list of textbooks, it's important for professors to do their own homework and make sure they're assigning books that will truly be valuable to students and are assigning the least amount possible. If a professor genuinely needs to use a small portion of their own textbook in class, they should consider printing out those sections to give to students as a handout rather than making them pay for the whole book.

Find out which schools are doing their best to help low-income students.

Next: View Schools
Created with Sketch. Link to this page

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?