Animation Instructor Fights Unnecessary Textbook Purchases And Gets Fired For His Trouble

from the school-motto:-'Punire-Omni-Benefacto' dept

Endlessly mounting tuition isn’t the only factor turning a college degree into a lifetime of student loan payments. Textbook prices are keeping pace with tuition, both of which are charging far ahead of inflation and wages.

There’s no monopoly on the textbook market, but over 80% of it is controlled by the top four publishers (Pearson, Cengage, Wiley and McGraw-Hill). This control gives them enough leverage to maintain a 65% gross margin on their offerings.

The newest faces in the textbook world aren’t making anything better. EDMC (Education Management Corporation), which operates several for-profit post-secondary schools (Argosy, The Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College) has its own e-textbook publishing arm, Digital Bookshelf, which handles all of its e-book offerings. As recently as last year, some were hoping the move to digital books would bring these prices down. Instead, digital offerings are arriving locked down, requiring students to purchase access codes which prevent the sharing of books and eliminates the resale market.

Here’s what happens when a well-respected instructor attempts to push back against EDMC:

It’s a common scenario and most college students appreciate a teacher who’s looking for ways to deliver a quality education without requiring them to make unnecessary book purchases. Unfortunately, in the case of Mike Tracy, a highly-regarded animator who’d been teaching at the Art Institute of California-Orange County for the past 11 years, refusing to make students buy an e-book they don’t need may have cost him his job.

Tracy posted on his Facebook page that he’s “been in a dispute” with the school for several months “over their policy of mandatory e-textbooks in classes where their inclusion seems arbitrary, inappropriate and completely motivated by profit.

This isn’t just Tracy’s opinion. The post also cites EDMC’s own Faculty Federation as being opposed to the strong-arm tactics being deployed:

EDMC continues to insist on e-books only and wants sole discretion over what e-books are used, compromising faculty independence and expertise in choosing best resources for class.

Not only are instructors not allowed to opt-out of this “service,” students are forced to pay extra for versions they may not even need.

Art Institute requires students to pay a $50-$75 fee to download a temporary copy of the e-textbook from the Digital Bookshelf. Even if they want to buy a hard copy of the text, they still have to fork over the money for a digital version.

Note that this is a temporary copy, so there’s no passing it on to another classmate who might be taking the course in the next semester. This also prevents any sort of resale/trading taking from taking place. One of the slim advantages of purchasing physical copies was the ability to resell the books to help offset the costs of the next set of curriculum. The textbook publishers have turned that into a complete farce by adding minor revisions to their line of books as often as possible, changing a few homework problems or pushing text back and forth to force re-pagination. Many books are outdated before the next year of schooling even starts, turning a $150 investment into a doorstop. Going electronic-only, tied to pass codes and non-refundable fees eliminates any further recoupment for the students.

Beyond the ugliness of these mercenary tactics is the fact that what EDMC is doing is, if not actually illegal, certainly operating in a very gray area. The Higher Education Opportunity Act (passed in 2008) states that textbook publishers must “unbundle” their core educational content from optional add-ons like study guides or homework systems. It could be argued that an electronic version of the same textbook is not an “optional add-on,” but one could also certainly argue that the option to buy either/or when it comes to digital and physical books should still be left to the students’ or instructors’ preference, rather than subjecting students to mandatory, non-refundable fees.

EDMC should be a bit more careful about operating at the fringes of federal law. It’s currently being sued by the Department of Justice for illegal recruiting and false claims:

The government’s complaint says the company, which offers classes online and at 105 locations in 32 states and Canada, repeatedly made false statements to conceal its practices and receive $11 billion in federal and state financial aid – nearly all of the company’s revenue. The complaint alleges that student enrollment was the sole focus of its compensation system, and the company instructed recruiters to use high-pressure sales techniques like playing on an applicant’s psychological vulnerabilities and inflating claims of career placement opportunities to enroll students regardless of their qualifications.

Beyond the resale blockage and rent-seeking is the outrageous idea that somehow courses should have mandatory textbooks, thus forcing instructors to teach their classes in whatever direction the curriculum provider steers them, rather than being able to impart knowledge in a way that caters to the instructor and the students.

There’s no way that locking your faculty and students into purchasing and utilizing textbooks from a single provider is ever going to work for the benefit of anyone but the company being favored and the administration members who made this exclusive contract a reality. EDMC can have it both ways for the moment, operating both a set of schools and providing its own exclusive conduit for instructional material.

As for Mike Tracy, his students have banded together to get him reinstated. They’ve also started a petition over at, asking for the Art Institute to amend its textbook policy to put curriculum selection back in the hands of the instructors. It currently has over 3,500 signatures.

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Comments on “Animation Instructor Fights Unnecessary Textbook Purchases And Gets Fired For His Trouble”

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Josef Anvil (profile) says:


Shit, I thought $5.99 was fucking outrageous for an ebook. $50 – $75 for a single use book for a single user???? WTF??? 65% gross margin???? Captive consumer base? WOW, just wow. The only question I have is why the gross margin on etextbooks is so low. There must be a lot of hands in the pot.

There is absolutely NO rational argument that can be made to convince textbook publishers to give up that business model. The publishers are going to milk that cash cow until the internet routes around the damage.

Michael says:

Not only is that pathetic but also kind of creepy. Here are all these students being forced to purchase e-books at amazing rip-off prices (which cost practically nothing to transfer/copy) and they have the audacity to fire a teacher for not going along with their blatant scam.

What a laughingstock our education system has become.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re:

This isn’t really “our education system.” These are the for-profit parasites that prey on people who otherwise can’t get into college but feel they need a degree.

Unfortunately, the student loan debt numbers mean that even community colleges, which were once the most inclusive big tent of higher education and would accept virtually anyone, are now having to turn away students.

While this might be good in the sense that it may prevent some people from accumulating debt they’ll never be able to pay off, it also drives desperate people who feel they need a degree to get a good job to go to a for-profit school, which usually charges more than community college, pulls price gouging shit like this with their textbooks, and ultimately isn’t as respected for a degree as a non-profit institution.

If I’m looking at two candidates with the same degrees and all other things like work experience are equal, I’ll go with the one who attended a community college over one who attended a for-profit college. For-profit colleges are there to make money and churn out “successful” students, regardless of whether they learn anything useful. Granted that you can get degrees at regular colleges without learning anything, but the rates of failure and debt are a lot lower than at for-profit colleges. The fact that you can get financial aid for a for-profit college is outrageous.

Gene Poole says:

I wonder what exactly a “temporary copy” is. I know there’s bound to be DRM, but if one can open this copy in a program like Calibre, one can also likely strip out the DRM.

Not to say that this is a solution of any sort, but I don’t understand why anyone thinks there is any such thing as a temporary copy to begin with.

I mean, if the prices are unreasonably high, this seems like the first and most obvious choice.

I wonder what kind of issues there would be for an economics class. Technically you shouldn’t be allowed to pass if you actually paid the full price for your books.


Nothing new here.

Students may feel this textbook ripoff is a new conspiracy involving substandard schools and publishers of dodgy books but I think you will find it has only ever been this way. Here I am, retired, thinking back to my college days. In the ’60’s I was an engineering student, forced to take a manditory “western civilization” class, the pet project of the dean. They produced their own text, a big coffee table type book that delivered a sanitized version of history and priced it at fifty dollars! Now if you subscribe to the notion that inflation has made one “1960 dollar” worth ten today, that makes it a 500 dollar book. Well I don’t believe that actual inflation has been that extreme but a lot of folks do. Anybody out there forced to buy a $500 book?

Incidently, I made 65 cents an hour at that time. I never bought the book and got an “A” in the course. I’ve got to believe there are ways around at least some of the new dirty tricks. Notice that the school in the post was a “for profit” operation. Does it surprise anyone that the owners would use every trick they can think of to increase profits?

Anonymous Coward says:

Yeah, I graduated from college about a year ago, and the bookstore on our campus finally got e-books during my senior year. I was excited, thinking that e-books meant cheaper prices and not having to lug around heavy textbooks, but I was immediately disappointed seeing that the price of most textbooks were not only just as high as their printed counterparts but in many cases even higher. It was ridiculous seeing $250-$300 e-books. I’m fairly certain they bundled other services in with it to make it “worth” the price, but it was still nonsensically expensive. I don’t know of any students who have made the switch to e-books.

Atkray (profile) says:

I took on ground classes from a “for profit” school, they used e-books with varying drm schemes. The good thing was it was a flat $75 per course regardless of how many texts were used. Mostly I just would print them to pdf to remove the drm. Oh and if you completed your undergraduate work at the school they didn’t charge you for textbooks during graduate classes.

Still not great but better than a lot of what I see out there.

Bill White says:

Price of education

I’ve been paying for my nephew’s and niece’s college books for a couple years. This semester I’ll spend about $1000. My biggest expense will be their chemistry course which requires several texts – including one written by the instructor and an access code for online homework & quizzes. The main chemistry book with access code (which you can only buy new) is $360, the instructor’s book tacks on another $150. I can try looking for used copies of the textbooks but since access codes are a 1-shot deal and only good for the semester, there’s no way around paying full price for something they’ll hardly touch.

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