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Digital Access Codes: One Step Closer to Hell

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In high school, teachers took great pleasure in trying to teach me what college was going to be like. This involved a variety of false statements like “You can’t miss lectures in college” that were accompanied by flimsy advice on time management. However, all of these helpful bits of advice failed to address one constant irritating detail of college: You aren’t just paying for textbooks that are basically obsolete in a year; you’re also paying an extra $50 to $100 for the privilege of doing your homework. I’m talking, of course, about digital access codes.

        Like most first-year college students, I got blindsided by the bookstore and ended up buying and renting some pretty costly textbooks. Also, like most college students, I didn’t get suckered twice. Instead, I browsed the internet and bought my textbooks for the cheapest amount of money possible. I didn’t care if they were used or written in—if it was legible and cheaper than what the bookstore was offering, it was mine. Even better, when I got the chance, I’d share a textbook with a friend and split the cost in half. Doing this generally saved me at least two hundred dollars a semester, and as a college student, that’s a lot of money.

        Digital access codes shot that method of saving money down like a plane in a generic war movie. All of a sudden, I didn’t only have to buy a textbook—I had to also purchase an access code in order to access parts of the textbook, take quizzes and do my mandatory graded homework. With each access code costing at least $70, and multiple classes requiring access codes, the money I was shelling out to get my course supplies increased dramatically. This was made exponentially worse by the fact that digital access codes are a one-time use object—they last for one class and one semester before expiring. Because of this, digital access codes tank the resale value for textbooks. In the good old days, before these awful 16-digit codes, it was possible to resell the book to another student. You would make some of the money back on your purchase, and the student you sold it to would get it for a cheaper price. It cuts the bookstore and the publishers out of the equation and is much more affordable for students. Now, since each used book that contained access codes can’t be guaranteed to have a valid code, shopping for used textbooks gets tricky. If an access code is necessary for a class, three options are available: Buy a used book online and blindly hope for the best, buy a used textbook and an access code separately, or buy a new book from the bookstore and feel part of your soul and wallet slip away from you.

        I can see why digital access codes are appealing to teachers. Online homework and quizzes basically grade themselves, and presumably, you would never have to worry about a student claiming they turned their homework in but the professor lost it. With online homework through digital access codes, grading becomes easier and students can get immediate feedback. I can also see why digital access codes are appealing to publishers, as they lock students into buying directly from the company. With digital access codes, there’s no way to share with a friend or check out the textbook from a library. The student has to purchase the access code, and in a world where students have become pretty good at avoiding buying books directly from the publisher, it’s a form of guaranteed income. Neither of these excuses, however, make digital access codes an acceptable thing to force me to buy.

        As a student, I should have to pay for the textbook. I understand that. I shouldn’t have to pay extra money to do the homework or to take quizzes that make up a good chunk of my grade. That’s the equivalent of buying a car, then having to pay extra money for the headlights to be installed after the dealer removed them. You can’t exactly go on without the lights, even though you paid for the car because you will get in trouble with the police. When some classes demand that you have these codes but never use them more than once or twice, it’s even worse. You can’t make a guess on whether the access code is necessary because it has the potential to sink your grade, but if the professor doesn’t use it too much, you’ve basically thrown away 100 dollars.

        While I might have the money to be able to buy a digital access code for whatever website the professor wants—which could be to Sapling, or WebAssign, or any of Pearson’s Mastering websites—some students might not have those funds. College textbooks cost a lot of money when you’re buying them from the bookstore, which is occasionally the only place access codes can be bought, and that money adds up quickly. One access code might not seem like much, but three a semester and no way to make up any of the costs? That can be a lot of money to pony up for a product that isn’t always necessary.

        While publishers might brag about how well their products work and how digital access codes fulfill a unique niche in the college education system, they’re not the only options out there for professors. Online homework can be given and graded through free sites such as WeBWork, and online quizzes can be built and distributed through sites all students have access to, such as Blackboard. In-class questions and quizzes can be run through Socrative instead of through sites that require digital access codes or clickers. All of these options are free and accessible to students, so it’s confusing and frustrating as to why professors constantly ignore them and choose to add yet another cost to the stack of bills college students are already juggling.

        To sum it all up: Digital access codes can go rot, and I’m not impressed with the people who make me buy them. It’s the equivalent of a professor making every student buy the updated textbook that they write every year that is also only available in the bookstore. It’s driving up the price of textbooks up, and that’s a strain that college students don’t need.

That’s the equivalent of buying a car, then having to pay extra money for the headlights to be installed after the dealer removed them.

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Digital Access Codes: One Step Closer to Hell