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Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig at TheGrill: We’re Screwing Students

Exec also lays out a plan to make education more affordable — and keep his company relevant in a post-textbook age

Dan Rosensweig is ready to turn the page at textbook-rental site Chegg.

Chegg CEO Rosensweig acknowledged that hard-copy textbooks will likely become a thing of the past in this increasingly digital age, but at TheWrap's media leadership conference, TheGrill on Tuesday, he outlined the company's plan to expand into every aspect of a student's life, with the over-arching goal of making college more accessible and affordable. 

And as Rosensweig — the former COO of Yahoo — sees it, the idea has come not a moment too soon.

(Photograph by Jonathan Alcorn)

Noting the alarming number of students who graduate in debt, Rosensweig told moderator CigaOmni Media founder Om Malik, "We're bankrupting these children, and thanks to No Child Left Behind, the ony thing you can't declare bankruptcy on is your college loans.

"We're taking our best and brightest, and we're screwing them."

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Essential to Chegg's plan to remedy that situation is the company's acquisition of Zinch, which connects potential students and graduate to scholarships, admissions officers and other students who have been through the same process.

(In the video below, Rosensweig discusses the necessity of businesses adapting to young people's desire for information, when and where they want it.)

Other recent acquisitions by Chegg, such as CourseRank and online tutorial marketplace Student of Fortune — which enables students to swap notes and other material — will allow Chegg to "really take [in] the lifespan of a student's life," from before enrollment to graduation.

The overall goal — to create a massive social-media network dedicated to the student experience — began to take form shortly after Rosensweig assumed the CEO position last year.

"It's been an evolution; when I took the job 16 months ago, I was told, 'Figure out a digital strategy, because its obvious that textbooks aren't going to be aound forever,'" Rosensweig recalled. "Nobody had created a network centered around you, the student you — the school you're in, you the class you're in, your major."

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Creating a global network for students, Rosensweig said, "seemed inevitable to me."

Rosensweig added, "The idea here is to build a brand-new economy around the students help them save time, save money."

As he sees it, the mission to make education more affordable and accessible isn't just a solid plan to keep Chegg viable in a post-textbook age — it's no less than essential to the nation's future.

"I would say that the cost of education has to come down, and should come down — if we want to compete with these other countries, then we have to provide an education," Rosensweig said. "If we don't drive the cost down, then I think we cannot succeed; the fact of the matter is, we should be making the information accessible to everybody."

Speaking of succeeding and competing, Rosensweig — a former chief operating officer at Yahoo — took time out during the panel to discuss his onetime employer, which has experienced tumult of late with the recent ouster of CEO Carol Bartz.

"Essentially, what it feels like to me is that they put their hands up and said, 'Somebody else figure out how to drive this thing,'" Rosensweig opined, adding that the company "went from being a disruptor to being disrupted" by companies such as Google.

However, he held out hope that the company could right itself, citing Apple's turnaround following its nadir.

"There's always another trend," Rosensweig said.

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