Warren County Community College in New Jersey will offer students a subscription based model to rent textbooks. 

There’s no doubt that college is pricey and expenses for textbooks are a contributing factor. Many college textbooks, especially in the fields of science or engineering, can cost hundreds of dollars apiece. And it’s common for professors to require nearly a dozen books for a single class. Many students have to take out student loans to buy their textbooks.

That’s why Warren County Community College (WCCC) in New Jersey is partnering with the education company Cengage to offer a subscription-based alternative, Lehigh Valley Live reported.

Instead of purchasing books at the start of a new semester, students will pay a flat fee to access all the textbooks they need electronically. Students gain access to over 22,000 electronic resources, and individuals who prefer physical books can pay $7.99 to have one mailed to them.

WCCC President Will Austin said the program is like Netflix for college textbooks. "You get a subscription that gives you access to every textbook or online learning material in their domain." Austin estimated that this will save students "hundreds of dollars a semester."

The program will be offered at WCCC during the 2019 spring semester, and the college has yet to work out a fee. The service typically costs $119.99 per semester, but Austin said WCCC students will likely pay less than that per year. The college plans to include the cost of the program with students’ tuition fees.

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This service highlights a growing effort to break down many of the financial barriers that prevent some students from attending college. During the 2017-2018 school year, the average student spent over $1,200 a year on textbooks, according to College Board. Cengage’s service costs a fraction of that amount.

Plus, a subscription offers the added benefit that students will know exactly how much they have to spend on textbooks every year. This is something that is nearly impossible to plan for when the only options are hardback books from the college bookstore.

This could limit some instructors as to what textbooks they are able to teach from, but Austin doesn’t think this will be a problem. He acknowledged that while some professors may prefer one book over another, this doesn’t merit “asking a student to pay $300 for a single book versus half that for all their books."

The Cengage Unlimited Program will be available on Aug. 1, 2018, so it remains to be seen what the experience will be like for students. But if the company is able to deliver on their promise, it could be a cost-effective and convenient solution for most students.