Professors Make Textbooks More Affordable for Students

By Frances Clause

Every semester, students at Youngstown State University and other colleges across the nation undergo the expensive ritual of purchasing required textbooks for their courses. But what happens when the assigned readings are written by the course instructor?

According to the American Association of University Professors, students should not assume professors are making large profits by using their own textbooks for their courses. In fact, the profits are trivial to nonexistent.

“Whatever number of students I have in my course, I have to subtract that from any royalties, so I can’t actually profit,” Mark Vopat, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at YSU, said.

According to Vopat, the university’s new policy states that professors cannot receive any royalties from their textbooks if used in the courses they teach. Full-time faculty members can choose their own content for their courses, but adjunct professors must use departmental approved books.

Vopat collaborated with Alan Tomhave, chair and professor in the Department of Philosophy, on “Business Ethics: The Big Picture and Business Ethics: It’s Just Ethics,” for his professional ethics courses.

“The reason why we collaborated on these books is because we wanted to get an affordable textbook for students,” he said. “If you look at what’s out there on the market, most start out at $80 for a standard business ethics book and go up to $150. We thought that was ridiculous.”

Photo by Frances Clause/The Jambar

Vopat said that he and Tomhave got lucky when it came to finding a publisher that could keep the prices of their textbooks low. Broadview Press, a Canadian publisher, was able to keep the textbooks at $50 with a five-year contract.

“The first publisher we went with made [the textbooks] under $60, but after our three-year contract was up, they upped the price to $110 a book,” he said. “We couldn’t stay with them.”

Tomhave said the most challenging aspect of publishing the textbooks was watching the budget given by Broadview Press.

“The publisher has to pay royalties to the original publisher of any articles you use on the book, hence the budget,” he said. “Some articles are really expensive, so we had to be able to balance the importance of the work that we were putting in the textbook against the cost.”

Not only do professors at YSU ensure their textbooks remain affordable for students, some departments even donate royalties to better the university.

To publish his three textbooks, “Environmental Science: Sustainability for the 21st Century,” “Geology: An Introduction” and “Pathways to Learning Environmental Science: A Study Guide for Success,” Alan Jacobs, geological and environmental sciences professor, went through 20 years of notes, lectures and travels.

Jacobs said his department’s policy allows the faculty to freely choose the textbooks to be used for their courses. Royalties are then donated back to the department or YSU.

“To date, $18,000 has been donated to the YSU Foundation, funded by these royalties,” he said. “Students in [environmental and geological] courses compete for $100 scholarship awards by grade and by point accrual.”

Jacobs said he has donated more than the royalties to add to the scholarship fund entitled, Alan M. Jacobs Award for Achievement in Environmental Science/Geology, giving students incentive to perform to the best of their abilities in his courses.