Archive for December, 2015

College textbooks up over 1000 percent since ’77

Bernie Sanders say it’s time to make college tuition free.  That would really be radical.  A more attainable goal is to make textbooks more affordable.  According to an NBC story posted just prior to the current school year, college textbook prices have risen 1,041 percent since 1977, now amounting to over $1200 per student per year.  My high school classmate Mark Perry, Professor of Economics at University of Michigan, warns that:

“College textbook prices are increasing way more than parents’ ability to pay for them.”

This tide of expenses for books has been slowed somewhat by the advent of rentals, e.g., $34 for one semester versus $157 to buy Montgomery’s 8th Edition of Design and Analysis of Experiments.

Another way to save that no one dreamed of in ’77 is by buying an e-textbook—Montgomery’s DAOE book costing only $67 in this format.

However, the big breakthrough in reducing the cost of college comes from the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Network (OTN), which began offering textbooks for free three years ago. Students over this period saved an estimated 1.5 million dollars, primarily over the past year.*

Professor Gary Oehlert of U Mn School of Statistics—a long-time advisor to Stat-Ease and author of A First Course in Design and Analysis of Experiments**—provides this endorsement of this worthy initiative by my alma mater: “There are several other similar open textbook depositories (OpenStax, etc), but OTN was one of the first to have reviews for the books as well as perhaps being the only one to have a support model for obtaining serious reviews of the books. It also has a broader range of texts than one might anticipate, with math books ranging from high school level through some fairly advanced topics.”

Powerful forces from for-profit publishers and authors who prefer being paid for their hard labor will naturally restrict the spread of free books.  Even so, the OTN will certainly put a damper on the rampant inflation of the cost of texts.  That will be a big relief for hard-pressed students and their parents.

*Source: “One for the Books”, Minnesota Alumni magazine, Winter 2016, p.12.
**Freely available here under Creative Commons license

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Merry DXmas!

Design-Expert software produced this graphic with some wizardry by our Consultant Wayne Adams. Amazing!
DXmas tree

Happy holidays!

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Technology advanced beyond any hope for healthy curiosity

I am watching the Syfy’s series “Childhood’s End” this week.  It is based on a science fiction novel by British author Arthur C. Clarke, one of my favorites growing up.  One of the main characters is a very bright boy who at the end of the premier episode last night becomes an astrophysicist, despite this scientific profession being made entirely superfluous by the advanced technology of the alien Overlords.

This morning Robert Scherrer, the chairman of the department of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University, lamented in an editorial* for Wall Street Journal that children no longer have any reason to be interested in science, mainly because most of our household gadgets fall into the category of magic—alluding to Clarke’s observation that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

“The world’s now placid, featureless, and culturally dead: nothing really new has been created since the Overlords came. The reason’s obvious. There’s nothing left to struggle for, and there are too many distractions and entertainments.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End

*How to Raise a Scientist in the Xbox Age


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