By Briana Thomas, Special to the AFRO

Earlier this month, digital learning company Cengage and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced a free online textbook program to help Black students shoulder the financial strain of purchasing college materials. 

This upcoming school year, Cengage Unlimited will offer 1,000 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) free, semester-long subscriptions to their all-access digital college textbook and course material platform. 

According to a press release, UNCF will administer the program and select the recipients on behalf of Cengage. 

The United Negro College Fund partnered with Cengage Unlimited to offer 1,000 students from HBCUs free, semester-long subscriptions to digital textbooks. (Courtesy Photo)

Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage, said in a press release that his company is proud to partner with UNCF to assist minority students in paying for educational resources. 

“Every student should have an equal opportunity to succeed, and having the right learning materials can have a critical impact on performance,” Hansen said. “The high of textbooks have prohibited this for many students…”

The free subscription to Cengage Unlimited grants Black students access to more than 22,000 Cengage eBooks, online homework access codes and study guides. The subscription price usually costs $119.99 a semester. 

According to a 2018 study by Morning Consult, 60 percent of African American students chose not to buy required textbooks and course materials, and 52 percent expressed that buying course materials has a big impact on their finances while in school. 

The same study listed the cost of textbooks as the highest financial stressor for students after paying for tuition. This was in comparison to the responsibilities of student housing, healthcare and food. 

Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF, said in the press release that it is important to support the education of the next generation of leaders. 

“For 75 years, our motto ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in,’ has remained at the forefront of everything we do,” Lomax said. “We must continue to invest our time and money in better futures for young people around the country.”

In recent years, student enrollment across the nation’s 102 HBCUs has decreased. 

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of HBCU students increased 47 percent between 1976 and 2010. That number decreased between 2010 and 2017 to a HBCU student population of 298,000 students.

UNCF is the largest minority education organization in the country. The company uses scholarships and programs, like the Cengage subscriptions, to strengthen its member colleges and advocate for minority learning and college readiness, according to the UNCF website. 

The recipients will be awarded based on financial need, a minimum GPA of 2.5, a one-page essay and letter of recommendation.

Five hundred subscriptions will be granted for the Fall 2019 semester and another five hundred for Spring 2020 semester. Applicants have until Aug. 29 to apply for the Fall semester. You can visit the UNCF website for more information.