Cengage Unlimited offers online course material options

Aaron McDade

Students can purchase a new service that allows them to access textbooks and other course materials, and it is potentially more affordable than just buying or renting the books.

In a live video press conference Tuesday, Cengage CEO Michael Hansen and Executive Vice President Sharon Loeb explained their new subscription-based service Cengage Unlimited, and answered questions from student reporters across the country.

Cengage Unlimited is a new service from Cengage, the largest U.S. based provider of course materials for colleges. The service provides students with access to the entire Cengage library of over 22,000 e-books through one of three subscription options.

In addition to the online Cengage library of materials, students get six months of Quizlet Plus, 30 days of access to a group of Chegg tutoring products, and 30 days of Kaplan test prep materials.

 A study of over 1,600 current and former college students by Morning Consult on behalf of Cengage found that 85 percent of students said textbooks caused the most financial stress after tuition, and 87 percent said they think textbooks are overpriced.

The service, announced last December, came from a realization that in most other areas of life in today’s culture, information is largely available on demand.

“The way you consume today, content, is much more on a basis of subscription. I get what I need when I need it, but I don’t necessarily need to own it,” Hansen said. Observing companies like Netflix and Spotify brought Cengage to the conclusion that this is the kind of system students today are accustomed to.

The evidence for the need for this system came from the large majority of students in the study who said textbooks are too expensive, which is a “downward spiral” Hansen said has been progressing for almost 20 years.

“The consumer was saying, ‘the price is too high and I want to find a way around buying the product.’ Therefore, they found ever-increasing ways, some good, some not so good, around buying a product…What the industry did in turn…, they raised prices because fewer and fewer students were buying the product,” Hansen said.

Textbook prices are the highest they have ever been, as prices have raised at four times the rate of inflation over the past 10 years, according to a CBS News report from January 2018. The report cites the College Board, saying the average college student spends over $1,000 a year on textbooks and materials.

The Cengage Unlimited website also has a calculator where students can enter their current or future course materials to see their price and whether each book is in the Cengage library, and how much money students could save, if any, by using Cengage Unlimited instead of buying or renting each book individually.

Cengage Unlimited can be purchased online or through the Kent State bookstore, as students have to go through the bookstore if they need to use financial aid to purchase the service.

“Our goal with Cengage Unlimited was to improve not only affordability, but accessibility…We’re trying to make sure it’s as widely available as possible,” Sharon Loeb said.

In addition to the services mentioned previously, Loeb said students can rent physical copies of their textbooks for $7.99, and even after their subscription ends students can keep up to six textbooks or other materials in an online “locker” for one year after their subscription ends.

Hansen and Loeb encouraged all students to at least find the Cengage Unlimited calculator online, and see if they could save money using the service, and to encourage their instructors to use materials that are in the Cengage library in the future.

Aaron McDade is the jobs and money reporter. Contact him at [email protected]