The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities has urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block a proposed merger between publishing giants Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education, arguing that such a consolidation will likely mean increased textbook costs for students.
Peter McPherson, president of the research, policy and advocacy organization sent a letter to Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division to express his dismay and to urge the Department of Justice to take action.
“The impact would extend beyond students and families to the country at large,” wrote McPherson. “Textbooks represent an important part of the cost of college attendance and this burden falls disproportionately on low-income students. Increased costs would create new headwinds for students aiming to access and complete college.”
McPherson noted that over the past two decades, textbook prices have skyrocketed by 184 percent, tripling the rate of inflation in the broader economy. As a result, he said that the average student can expect to pay about $1,240 on textbooks and supplies a year.
“This rapid cost increase has come against the backdrop of state disinvestment in public universities, which has led to higher tuition and students paying for a growing share of their education,” he said. “A Cengage-McGraw Hill merger would leave two firms with overwhelming pricing power, at the expense of students and their families.”
A handful of other organizations, including the open-access advocacy group Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition or SPARC, have charged that the merger would create a duopoly in the textbook market, with the new combined publisher rivaled only by Pearson.
“Industry data shows that there has been a significant decline in student spending on course materials over the last decade,” a spokesperson for Cengage and McGraw-Hill said recently. “Cengage and McGraw-Hill’s initiatives focused on affordability saved students more than $115 million last year alone. The joining of our two companies will allow us to offer students even more value and more affordable options to access textbooks and course materials.”
McPherson, however, expressed skepticism.
“Increased consolidation will further reduce competition, disincentivize innovation, and raise prices for students,” he added.