The cost of higher education can create barriers for young adults seeking a college degree. Textbooks, for example, pose a significant challenge to a struggling student’s finances. Concerns about these costs have led students and faculty to seek alternative ways to obtain books and other study materials. Free articles online and material from the library are part of the solution. However, purchasing traditional college textbooks remains a centerpiece of academia.

Planned Obsolescence

With teachers often requiring the newest textbooks with the most up-to-date information and add-ons, older editions become obsolete. Therefore, to keep up with reading assignments, students must often either purchase new textbooks outright or look for alternatives. These textbooks often come with a hefty price tag and few options for selling them once a class is completed; therefore, thrift-minded students are often forced to turn to online textbook rental sites to hunt for deals.

Market Consolidation

The merger of college textbook publishers McGraw Hill and Cengage has the higher education community questioning the companies’ motives as well as the consequences for students’ wallets—namely, higher book prices. With a limited number of companies in the textbook market, the McGraw Hill-Cengage merger consolidates power and further limits the opportunities for competitive pricing. McGraw Hill and Cengage claim the merger will expand textbook access and affordability. However, student advocates question the true goals of these industry leaders, especially given the fact that textbook prices actually have been decreasing over the past two decades.

Digital and Rental

McGraw Hill and Cengage have expanded their rental and digital catalogs to increase student options. Costs, however, are still high, and the digital market garners the additional benefit of collecting data on students and their purchasing habits. Even though Cengage offers a subscription service, its collection is too limited to provide all of the titles students need for their coursework. The option of renting books reduces a student’s financial outlay, but it requires that the books are returned at the end of each semester. Moreover, since digital materials cannot be re-sold or shared, the flow of textbooks into the used book market is diminished when students rent their textbooks.

Bottom Line: Not Going to help reduce prices

Students need textbooks and other academic materials to succeed. Despite the claims of McGraw Hill and Cengage about their merger, it does raise serious concerns about students being able to afford the textbooks they need. Although the merger offers some cost-effective options for students, it is likely to drive up prices and undermine the used book industry, which often provides cheaper options for students. In a larger sense, the merger is yet another example of how education has become increasingly commodified.

If you’re a college student struggling to make ends meet, try using your talents and resources to make some extra cash. You may not be able to work full-time, but you might be surprised at the odd jobs that are available. Begin by taking inventory of your special skills. If you’re willing to explore creative options, you’ll discover good financial opportunities.

1. Be a Notetaker
A notetaker is a student who attends a classroom course and takes notes for another student who has accommodation for illness or disabilities. By law, colleges and universities must provide notetakers for students who have a registered learning disability. While being a notetaker, you can help students in need and enhance your own academic skills. Visit the accessibility resources office on your campus to offer your services.

2. Look for an On-Campus Job
An on-campus job is an ideal choice for a consistent influx of cash. Visit your financial aid or career services offices to inquire about job openings. On-campus jobs can accommodate your schedule and you may even be able to study while you work.

3. Get Paid to Help Others
If you excel in a particular subject, share your expertise with students who are struggling. Advertise your services on social media or talk to a professor about tutoring jobs that may be offered by an academic department.

4. Become a Merchandiser
Consider selling some of your clothes or used textbooks to make a few extra bucks. Local secondhand and consignment stores are often willing to buy gently used clothing. If you enjoy shopping, go to garage sales and thrift stores to look for hidden gems that you can buy and sell to make some extra cash. Rare books, antiques, and other collectibles can be sold online.

5. Use Your Domestic Skills

Use your free time to babysit, pet sit, or house sit as a flexible, part-time job. House cleaning, yard work, and snow shoveling can be worked into a busy college schedule. You can advertise online to find clients.

6. Hit the Road
If you have a car, consider working as a driver for people who need a ride. Join an organized rideshare service or create your own system to connect with potential customers. You can also deliver food or other goods for local retailers.

7. Become a Translator
If you speak a language other than English, become a translator. You can find translation jobs online. Contact local medical or social service agencies to offer your translation services for their patients and clients.

8. Become a Transcriber
College is the ideal environment to find work as a transcriber. Strong keyboarding skills are a necessity for this work. Contact academic departments to offer your services, or market your services online.

9. Donate Plasma
If you’re in good health and don’t mind needles, earn some extra money donating plasma. A component of blood, plasma is most often needed to treat accident or burn victims and people with diseases. Plasma donation centers offer cash and incentives to regular donors.

10. Apply for Scholarships
Spend some of your free time applying for college scholarships. You may discover special scholarships at your college that are available to students who are admitted into specific majors, for example. If you’re involved in campus or community activities, look for scholarships that will reward you for student involvement.