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> but ignore the fact that tuition is over $50,000 in many institutions

These textbook prices do matter! If you're paying 1k in textbook fees and 8k-9k in tuition, then those books are eating up a significant percentage of your total burn.

9k is not a made-up number, by the way. Public colleges and universities without active research programs have tuition in the ~9k range [1]. Which is still a lot, but a student who works a part-time job and lives at home can get out with relatively little debt (or even no debt with a modest scholarship and impressive work ethic).

You don't have to go to Harvard or even the state flagship. And you definitely don't need to go to one of the many second-rate schools that charge Harvard prices for access to a much less prestigious network and in many cases inferior education.

If a student attends a school with an active research program and chooses not to leverage that expertise in order to level up their career prospects, then that student made a bad decision. Perhaps we should be doing more to shield people from bad life choices, or at least not enable those choices with easy access to huge piles of debt. But in most states, there do exist (more) reasonable options in the current market.

IMO we should be moving to self-published open source books, with hard copies sold in the 20-50 dollar price range and with all profits going to the actual author. The online auto-graded homework assignments are an unsolved problem for some courses, but that's nothing a sabbatical or two can't solve.

[1] https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/highlights

"Pay the authors" is a really good strategy to incentivize the production of quality content. Get rid of the publishers and just have a short supply chain: author --print_on_demand--> readers. With a price tag in the 20-50 range, a prof could make a living from this book, even if the book isn't popular. When using print-on-demand and cutting out all the middlemen, the margins are very good (50% of list price vs 5% if going with mainstream publisher).

The useful part of a publisher is developmental editing (product) and copy editing (Q/A), so there is an opportunity for "lightweight" publishing companies that help expert authors produce the book—like self publishing, but you don't have to do the boring parts. I'm working in that space. We have two textbooks out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992001005/noBSmathphys and https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992001021/noBSLA

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