Tuesday, July 16

Submission: Requiring digital access codes is a financially unfair practice


As more and more course materials and textbooks transition into the digital world, students hope to find some financial relief from having to purchase expensive physical copies. On average, undergraduate students spend about $1,200 a year on textbooks and course materials.

This affordability crisis is worsening as textbook prices increase annually, and students have few alternatives to avoid these costs. Most recently, a new culprit has emerged in the exploitive textbook market: the digital access code.

Many UCLA courses require that students purchase digital access codes to view and submit course assignments, as per a California Public Interest Research Group survey done last year. A good number of students quite literally have to “buy their grades” – or at least, the materials that will help promote strong performance.

What is more outrageous is that students often cannot purchase digital access codes individually. Only 28 percent of all digital access codes are sold individually, according to a report by Student Public Interest Research Groups, a set of groups that advocate for causes such as affordable textbooks. This means that many students are forced to buy full textbook bundles, which typically include the physical copy of the textbook and other supplemental materials.

In short, what publishers advertise as a cheaper alternative to physical textbooks is a ploy to profit at the expense of accessible education.

The average cost of an access code purchased at most campus bookstores, according to Student PIRG’s report, is about $100. This means the extra costs could be substantial if a student is taking multiple classes that require several access codes per quarter.

With just textbooks, students had alternatives if they could not afford the required texts for their classes – they could rent or borrow books, for instance. With mandatory digital access codes, however, students lose this freedom and are forced to use their money to pass their classes.

The extra costs incurred by digital access codes are unnecessary, especially if the codes are merely used for homework and quiz submissions – something UCLA can already facilitate through CCLE. The additional costs can also force students to downgrade meal plans or take out more loans if they are in difficult financial situations.

For the more than seven million students who rely on the Federal Pell Grant, including 39 percent of Bruins, there is already enough financial burden on the plate with the high cost of textbooks. These students do not need additional “required” costs on top of textbooks.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Financial Supports Commission at UCLA will be partnering with CALPIRG to advocate for textbook affordability and alternatives to digital access codes.

We, as students who are forced to pay into corporate greed, should stand in solidarity with these groups against the requirement of purchasing digital access codes. Students have the opportunity to participate next week, when FSC and CALPIRG members will be reaching out to professors individually to pose alternatives to mandating purchase of access codes.

Many students already find it difficult to afford a UCLA education. Bruins who are forced to purchase digital access codes should reach out to their professors individually about these issues and articulate the injustice of this practice.

We have the right to demand the removal of the financial barriers that digital access codes impose on students.

Please join us by lobbying your own professors or joining us on our professor canvases to get sign-ons to voice our opposition to access codes. The FSC and CALPIRG will be on Bruin Walk on Wednesday explaining how to go about meeting with professors to talk about alternatives to access codes. We hope you will help us in making UCLA more affordable for everyone.

Tran is a second-year financial actuarial mathematics student and is a member of the Financial Supports Commission office.

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  • Publius

    “We, as students who are forced to pay into corporate greed, should stand in solidarity with these groups against the requirement of purchasing digital access codes.”

    LOL, no. Simply because you are being expected to pay for a service you don’t believe you should have to pay for, doesn’t mean the underlying fee represents corporate greed. Money doesn’t grow on trees. The content contained in these textbooks and accompanying online features, the writing, the publishing, the salaries, the overheard, are not paid for with magic.

    You attend one of the best universities on Earth, in a country with one of the best higher education systems known to man. The privileges associated with that fact come with a price, a price shared not just by you, but by me and other taxpayers. You are not oppressed. You are lucky. Pay the fees, or ask your professors for an alternative. But constantly expecting free stuff, in a state like California which is already sufficiently generous, is a no-go.

  • Kelly Holt

    “A good number of students quite literally have to “buy their grades” – or at least, the materials that will help promote strong performance”.

    Yes, I would agree. Just as the buildings you are taught in and the instructors who teach you in them have high costs associated with them, so do the course materials which “help promote strong performance”. While almost all physical and administrative costs of running a university are covered by tuition, course materials are the one item that is left outside of that, for the student to cover.

    Educational course material is a product, and has associated costs. Those costs can either be paid by the student, the university, or the government. If they are paid by the university, they will be added to tuition, and likely overestimated. If they are paid by the government, then either taxes will be increased or state and federal funding to universities will be decreased to offset the costs, which will definitely be overestimated. The result will be in an increase in tuition. No matter what, students will ultimately be expected to pay for the cost.

    And to address that cost, while the access codes run around $100 under current purchase models, that is usually in comparison to a printed text that costs over $200, and universities have begun programs which allow publishers to reduce the cost of these highly beneficial tools down to the $70 to $80 range. These programs, called “Inclusive Access” at UCLA and other UC campuses, essentially turn individual course rosters into buying groups, receiving a bulk discount. The average cost for course material in Inclusive Access courses at UC Davis in Fall of 2017 was $78. The average retail for the equivalent printed text was $218 for new copies, and $130 for used copies. Cheaper copies online? Maybe by $20 or so, but rarely enough for the entire class.

    “Access codes” are not just another culprit in a scheme to fleece students of money. Along with price savings they bring additional educational value to the academic table. They represent the progressive development of educational tools which have proven to improve student academic outcomes, which in turn improves student retention and can reduce time to completion. They inspire greater engagement with instructor-chosen material through interactivity which keeps pace with the way today’s digitally-centered students learn best. Many of these platforms also provide intuitive prompts for incorrect answers which behave like a virtual tutor when the instructor or a TA is unavailable for simple questions. There is a benefit to instructors also in that they not only have more time to focus on lecture sessions, but can use the engagement analytics within the programs to see areas where students are struggling and adjust their lectures to address them. Under “inclusive” distribution models, these materials are also available to every student on or before the first day of class, often directly within the learning management system and with a deferred payment period. This means learning can begin immediately, not 10-14 days into the term when the instructor can be sure everyone is prepared.

    Textbook costs are increasing and studies show that a large and growing percentage of students are opting to forego purchase of course materials altogether because of it, and this is having a negative effect on student success. Interactive Learning Platforms are enhanced academic tools which provide greater educational value than plain text, can be offered a price lower than traditional textbooks which is available to every student equally, can be updated more easily, and have no limit on a available quantities.

    Instead of comparing the cost of “materials that will help promote strong performance” against an expectation of “zero”, students should be looking at the value which those materials provide, and recognizing the efforts of an entire industry, from course materials developers to course materials providers, to navigate the complex economics of ensuring that the cost to value ratio of those materials is managed in the interest of providing students with the best education possible.

  • Kelly Holt

    “A good number of students quite literally have to “buy their grades” – or at least, the materials that will help promote strong performance”.

    Yes, I would agree. Just as the buildings you are taught in and the instructors who teach you in them have high costs associated with them, so do the course materials which “help promote strong performance”. While almost all physical and administrative costs of running a university are covered by tuition, course materials are the one item that is left outside of that, for the student to cover.

    Educational course material is a product, and has associated costs. Those costs can either be paid by the student, the university, or the government. If they are paid by the university, they will be added to tuition, and likely overestimated. If they are paid by the government, then either taxes will be increased or state and federal funding to universities will be decreased to offset the costs, which will definitely be overestimated. The result will be in an increase in tuition. No matter what, students will ultimately be expected to pay for the cost.

    And to address that cost, while the access codes run around $100 under current purchase models, that is usually in comparison to a printed text that costs over $200, and universities have begun programs which allow publishers to reduce the cost of these highly beneficial tools down to the $70 to $80 range. These programs, called “Inclusive Access” at UCLA and other UC campuses, essentially turn individual course rosters into buying groups, receiving a bulk discount. The average cost for course material in Inclusive Access courses at UC Davis in Fall of 2017 was $78. The average retail for the equivalent printed text was $218 for new copies, and $130 for used copies. Cheaper copies online? Maybe by $20 or so, but rarely enough for the entire class.

    “Access codes” are not just another culprit in a scheme to fleece students of money. Along with price savings they bring additional educational value to the academic table. They represent the progressive development of educational tools which have proven to improve student academic outcomes, which in turn improves student retention and can reduce time to completion. They inspire greater engagement with instructor-chosen material through interactivity which keeps pace with the way today’s digitally-centered students learn best. Many of these platforms also provide intuitive prompts for incorrect answers which behave like a virtual tutor when the instructor or a TA is unavailable for simple questions. There is a benefit to instructors also in that they not only have more time to focus on lecture sessions, but can use the engagement analytics within the programs to see areas where students are struggling and adjust their lectures to address them. Under “inclusive” distribution models, these materials are also available to every student on or before the first day of class, often directly within the learning management system and with a deferred payment period. This means learning can begin immediately, not 10-14 days into the term when the instructor can be sure everyone is prepared.

    Textbook costs are increasing and studies show that a large and growing percentage of students are opting to forego purchase of course materials altogether because of it, and this is having a negative effect on student success. Interactive Learning Platforms are enhanced academic tools which provide greater educational value than plain text, can be offered a price lower than traditional textbooks which is available to every student equally, can be updated more easily, and have no limit on a available quantities.

    Instead of comparing the cost of “materials that will help promote strong performance” against an expectation of “zero”, students should be looking at the value which those materials provide, and recognizing the efforts of an entire industry, from course materials developers to course materials providers, to navigate the complex economics of ensuring that the cost to value ratio of those materials is managed in the interest of providing students with the best education possible.

  • jaia

    As a co-author of a textbook used at UCLA, I agree. Although our book was published by a mainstream publisher, a full-color hardcover costs $60 (for a book used for two quarters) and students can download a PDF version free through a service UCLA subscribes to. $100 for a digital access code or even more for a hard copy is just gouging. Maybe it’s time for more of UCLA’s world-class faculty to develop instructional materials and release them free or at fair prices.