Online Access Codes ‘Throw Students Under the Bus’

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Access codes for online materials are the college textbook monopoly’s newest hurdle, according to a study from Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs).

University students have turned to online sources as avenues to avoid purchasing print textbooks, which can cost hundreds of dollars. However, with online access codes, the Student PIRGs report suggests that costs may have caught up with them. Online access codes are serial numbers that students use to unlock learning software, such as digital textbook passages, homework assignments, and exams.

According to the study, titled “Access Denied,”32 percent of college courses require students to plug in access codes to use the required material. The study says the average cost of an access code is $100, to say nothing of the other textbooks and supplies students must purchase for their other classes.

“Online access codes are the new face of the textbook monopoly,” Ethan Senack, higher education advocate at the Student PIRGs, said in a news release. “In one swoop, the publishers remove a student’s ability to opt out of buying their product, eliminate any and all competition in the market, and look good doing it because the codes are cheaper than publisher’s exorbitantly priced textbooks.”

Students have found solutions in managing the usually outlandish costs of physical textbooks, such as sharing with a friend, purchasing used books, renting from the school bookstore, or checking out materials from the library. Online access codes eliminate the possibility of sharing resources. The Student PIRGs’ report states that access codes become null after first use, and cannot be reactivated by another student in a different course or subsequent semester.

Furthermore, students will not be able to simply do without the online access codes the way some brazenly refuse to buy textbooks. Because certain access codes contain links to mandatory assignments and tests, students need to purchase them in order to participate in their classes.

“Publishers are touting access codes as a student-friendly option in the textbook market, but in reality, it’s just another tactic to eliminate competition in the market and keep profits high,” Senack said. “These codes offer big publishers a host of benefits over the traditional print market–while throwing students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, under the bus.”

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