Math department aims to save pupils’ money

Letter to Editor by Zhongwei Shen

Wednesday’s Kernel contained a cartoon about the high prices of textbooks. The cartoon included a math textbook.

There was probably no intent to single out mathematics for high textbook prices, but this cartoon provides us with an opportunity to outline some of the steps the UK Math Department and partners are taking to address high textbook prices.

In MA 123, a course that enrolls over 1,900 students in 2009-2010, we use a trade paperback as a textbook and the list price for this book is $16.99.

A typical textbook for this course costs $100 at

The Math Department and Math Sciences Computing Facility provided web homework to over 5,500 students in 2009 at no charge. Web homework from commercial vendors would cost $20 or more per student.

Several of our large enrollment courses — MA 109, MA 113, MA 114, MA 162, MA 213 and MA 214 — use custom editions that are cheaper than the standard editions.

In the calculus sequence — MA 113, 114 and 213 — we use a custom edition of Stewart’s Calculus that costs $122.50 for a book that may be used for three semesters. This is still a hefty price, but better than the regular edition, which is available for $170.67 at

The publisher of Stewart’s Calculus, Cengage, offers us contracts that guarantee the price for several years.

In fall 2009, Cengage inadvertently raised the price on several of our books. When they realized their mistake, they set up a table on campus and handed out refunds to students who had purchased new books for MA 109 and MA 113.

Zhongwei Shen

chair, mathematics