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.