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Scott Bays: Students should be made better aware of auto-enrolled textbook fees

(Hanna Rashidi/Daily Bruin)

By Scott Bays

Jan. 23, 2018 2:09 a.m.

Little known fact: UCLA has a tacit tax on students who daydream during the first two weeks of class.

In 2016, UCLA introduced a program called Inclusive Access, which aims to reduce the cost of course materials by allowing students to access digital copies of their textbooks for discounted prices. Students are automatically enrolled in Inclusive Access when they enroll in a course utilizing the program, meaning they have access to their textbooks on the first day of class, said Patrick Healey, UCLA Store director. The idea is that with the increased buy-in from students, the collective cost of course materials decreases, making the textbooks more affordable for students.

However, the automatic enrollment feature is a stain on an otherwise great service. While only five classes currently use the program, students are required to manually opt out of Inclusive Access by the end of the second week of the quarter to prevent the university from charging their BruinBills with the price of the textbook. Most students are unaffected by this, but it is easy to envision a few inattentive students unpleasantly finding out they’re paying more than $50 for a textbook they may not have wanted.

Rather than providing a service that interested students can buy into, UCLA has created one that requires disinterested students to opt out. This predatory financial practice puts a damper on what is an otherwise fantastic resource for the UCLA academic community.

The UCLA Store should remove the opt-out requirement and instead allow students to voluntarily purchase Inclusive Access. While the low prices of the program are no doubt appealing, UCLA should be asking students for their consent to participate in the program, not for their consent to sit out of it.

Professors are responsible for ensuring their students are aware their classes utilize Inclusive Access. They must also inform their students that they have to withdraw from the program to avoid getting charged for the digital textbook. That setup doesn’t always work out, though.

Anfer Tong, a first-year economics student who uses Inclusive Access in his Anthropology 1: “Human Evolution” class, said he only found out about the opt-out feature through the tutorial page on the course’s website. If he had not chosen to do the tutorial, he would have been unaware of the service and its opt-out provision.

Thus, a student charged for Inclusive Access who can’t find out through class announcements would have to check their BruinBill and stumble upon the charge – something you would only see after the deadline to opt out of the program.

Moreover, it’s not likely students would even realize the extra charge on their BruinBill. Edvin Pepic, a second-year political science student, agreed that most students don’t regularly keep up with their BruinBills.

“I check mine maybe once or twice a month, which is probably more than most students,” Pepic said. “But there (are) so many different charges and fees on there that I most likely wouldn’t notice if I was accidentally charged (for Inclusive Access).”

Once the deadline to opt out of the program expires, students unknowingly charged for Inclusive Access cannot request a refund unless they withdraw from the class using the service. They then have seven days to provide documented proof of withdrawal from the class if they wish to receive a refund. UCLA is clearly taking “inclusive” to a new level.

Inclusive Access is not a bad program by any means – just a poorly designed one. To improve the service, students should still be automatically enrolled at the beginning of class, but at the end of the first two weeks they should be required to log onto the UCLA Store website and purchase Inclusive Access if they wish to continue using their digital textbook. Doing so would ensure that the maximum number of students continue to purchase Inclusive Access, but of their own volition.

If UCLA believes professors can inform their students about Inclusive Access and how to opt out, professors should likewise be capable of informing their students about an opt-in model. Forcing students to manually elect not to get charged seems designed to milk some extra money out of the daydreamers, the snooze-pounders and the absentees.

Of course, doing away with the opt-out requirement may cause the price of Inclusive Access to rise, seemingly because fewer students would participate in its quasi-single-payer market. However, the current prices offered have relied partially on students being charged without their consent. Inclusive Access is meant to be a program to make textbooks more affordable to students, and the UCLA Store should allow it to stand on its own merits and subsequently attract interested customers instead of relying on cheap tricks to force some Bruins into the market.

Inclusive Access has the potential to benefit Bruins by simplifying and making cheaper the textbook-buying experience. By simply requiring willing students to opt into the service rather than opt out, UCLA can ensure that no one is charged for a service they don’t want.

After all, integrity is a True Bruin Value. Predatory financial models don’t belong at a college textbook store.

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Scott Bays | Opinion columnist
Bays is an Opinion columnist.
Bays is an Opinion columnist.
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