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.
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.
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.