College students have always complained about the cost of course materials. The latest target for concern is access codes for digital content.
Such codes typically range from $80-$150 per course and are often required to access homework assignments and quizzes. Since the fees are time-limited licenses, the codes can’t be shared or sold back to the campus store, and that’s generating criticism.
“When we talk about access codes, we see it as the new face of the textbook monopoly, a new way to lock students around this system,” Ethan Senack, federal higher-education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told BuzzFeed News. “Rather than $250 [for a print textbook], you’re paying $120, but because it’s digital, it eliminates the used-book market and eliminates any sharing, and because homework and tests are through an access codes, it eliminates any ability to opt out.”
Publishers point out the codes are not only less expensive than printed textbooks, they also provide additional features such as personalized knowledge checks and video. McGraw-Hill Education reported a 12% increase in paid activations for its LearnSmart and Connect programs in 2015, while Pearson showed a 3% gain in global digital registrations for its MyLab programs.
“These digital products are not just mechanisms for students to submit homework, they offer all kinds of features,” said David Anderson, executive director of higher education for the Association of American Publishers. “It’s very robust in helping students understand in a way that you can’t do with a print homework assignment.”