Cengage book program gets mixed reviews

Bookstore employee Kaitlyn Gullet

Cengage Unlimited, a publishing company used by many MCCC courses, is offering a digital subscription service that could save students hundreds of dollars on textbooks.

With the purchase of a $119 textbook access code, students would be able to keep up to six Cengage digital textbooks a year. 

While the new program benefits students, some professors are critical of how it was rolled out.

Edmund La Clair, assistant professor of History, says from the time he heard of the new program last spring he was not interested.

“I have one entire class where many students don’t have a copy of the textbook because I apparently need to set up some webpage that Cengage never told me about, and I’m currently furious with Cengage,” he said.

 MCCC English professor Michelle Toll said there are other advantages, including renting a physical textbook for $7.99.

“If the teacher requires you to have a hard copy in class, you can have both of those things, and the online content you can have for however long your unlimited package lasts.”

Cengage offers two options for an access code: a one-semester code for $119.99 and a two-semester code for $179.99.

“From a student’s perspective, it sounds like it makes sense,” Toll said.

“If you have more than one class which uses a Cengage book, why wouldn’t you get that package?”

MCCC student Claire Bechard, 18, works in the MCCC bookstore and has begun selling Cengage Unlimited to students.

“The books that are produced by the publisher, Cengage, are actually often selling out,” Bechard said.

“The online access to books and lower prices are both benefits for students.”

Kaitlyn Gullet, a fifth year middle college student and also an employee of the bookstore, is familiar with Cengage.

“We ordered 600 Cengage Unlimited Textbooks, and a lot of students have purchased them,” Gullet said.

The new program is as much a learning process for the professors as the students.

“As a faculty member, last year when they presented the idea of using Unlimited, it sounded really good, really cost saving for students,” Toll said.

“But we are experiencing some growing pains or adjustment pains at this point.”

Toll noted that the course key has been a little controversial.

“You can’t just buy this card,” Toll said. “It’s like a piece of paper that says you have unlimited access (to Cengage textbooks), but the instructor has to go do something.”

La Clair also noted difficulties with the program.

 “I like the idea that they’re trying to save students money,” La Clair said, “but my biggest problem is they’re requiring professors to take extra steps that they didn’t tell us about to set up the course so students can get the textbook.”

E-books are another issue on which La Clair feels strongly.

“Digital textbooks have been shown in study after study not to serve students as well as a physical textbook,” he said.

Bechard also defended the benefits of physical textbooks.

“Students are willing to purchase the physical copy for another $100-$200, rather than just buy the access card for $119.99,” Bechard said.

While the debate of using physical or digital copies continues, professors and students alike believe there is room for improvement in Cengage.

“I think it’s a great program for the future,” Bechard said, “but we are the pioneers and we have to deal with the kinks.”

 Kelly Heizerling, the Director of Purchasing and Auxiliary Services, also assists in student purchases.

She said the bookstore has sold 222 of its original 600 Cengage textbooks.

“For the most part, it seems like everyone is already familiar with the online platforms,” Heizerling said.

“I think we’ll be able to have a better gauge as to how the books are working for students in the winter semester.”

Kristen Betts, a Cengage representative, explained the course key, a code required for any class using a Cengage textbook.

“In certain circumstances, the instructor has to create a course in the technology given,” Betts said.

“It could be SAM, MindTap, WebAssign – the affiliated technology with the book. The professor creates the course, gets the course key, and then gives it to the student, which allows them to get the rental.”

Toll said she had trouble setting up her course key and noted that Cengage assisted her and her students.

“I talked to someone from Cengage from the regional level,” Toll said.

 “She helped me set it up so that Cengage would be one of the tabs right on our Brightspace, our learning management.”