The Price of Education: Are Access Codes Necessary or Just a Scam?

How much are you willing to pay for that A?
September 15, 2017
6 mins read

If there’s one thing that can be mutually agreed upon by most college students, it would be that college is just plain expensive! Between the thousands of dollars just to sit in a classroom and the couple hundred bucks to but textbooks that you might only crack open once during the semester, it sometimes seems as if universities have a vacuum attached to the bank accounts of their students to suck out their funds as they wish. However, the internet’s takeover of every aspect of our lives adds another expense for college students: access codes.

For those who are lucky enough to have not been required to buy one, an access code is basically paying the price of a textbook just to do homework assignments online. The codes have a corresponding physical textbook that must be purchased new. Yes, that’s right. If a professor asks students to get a textbook with an access code, the book usually can’t be rented or purchased used at a lower price because the codes that come with them can only be used once and last for about six months. If you don’t want to buy a brand-new book, then there’s the option of getting a used one and purchasing the code separately, but it’s often much cheaper just to get the new book. Then, once the semester is over, the book is pretty much useless because the code is already used and the student is basically stuck with it.

Colleges have existed for centuries without the need for internet. Of course, that’s partly because the online world didn’t exist until a couple decades ago. The internet has made education a million times easier, bringing an abundance of information to the palm of your hand within seconds. Seriously, how on Earth did people write research papers before the invention of the internet? It’s also now easier to turn in assignments without the need to submit a physical copy or to leave your computer.

I don’t know how other schools are, but mine has a platform called D2L (Desire to Learn) where professors can upload assignments and students can turn them in. Through it, I can also get links and pdfs of readings, post in discussion boards, communicate with my professors and check my grades. If this exists for free, then why do I need to pay to get access to similar content?

In my research, I found information about the sneaky reason why access codes exist, but very little on why professors choose to make students buy them. The reason why publishers offer the online content that costs anywhere from $60-$150 to buy is because they’re basically trying to outsmart the students. Because the overwhelming majority of college students have very little money to spend, they use strategies to save any extra dollar they can on overpriced textbooks, such as sharing, renting, buying used and opting out of buying one at all. For the publishers, this frugality means that they don’t get as much profit as they would like. So, they created the access code.

Access codes are an expense most students don’t need (Image via Money Crashers)

Access codes don’t only unlock places to just dump assignments, but they also have eBook material, videos, flashcards, quizzes and more. In a biology class I took, I had to watch videos and do little activities to get homework credit, even though I learned the same material in high school biology for free with very little use of the internet. But, the thing is that professors believe that the special content offers helpful tools for students. From experience, I’ve found that they’re typically right. Again, why do I have to pay money to access this content that I find elsewhere on the internet? With that money, I could caffeinate myself through a semester’s worth of sessions studying for those classes!

To save a few extra dollars, the best thing to do is ask the professor ahead of time about whether you need either the code or the book. Sometimes, as many students complain about, professors will say that they require a textbook for their class, but only for students to reference and study from. But really, how many of us actually crack open the book for that purpose when we don’t have to? If that’s the case, then it’s best to buy the code alone. Most, if not all, publishers have the option to purchase a separate access code. However, if the book is absolutely necessary to pass the class, then you’re better off buying the book new instead of purchasing or renting a used one and getting the access code separately.

Another reason why professors might make students buy the access code is because they want to give them the tools that exclusive content offers, but they don’t require them to use it. In that case, it’s best to just skip it and use your own study strategies. Flashcards can easily be made, practice quizzes can be found online and there’s a plethora of videos explaining the material, like Khan Academy. This is the information age, after all!

So, now I offer my theory as to the reason behind the appeal of these access codes. It all comes down to marketing. Companies infamously hype up their products to convince consumers that they need them. Exclusive online content is no different. Under the guise of convenience, efficiency and more effective education, professors are led to believe that their students would benefit greatly from purchasing an access code. Yes, it’s convenient. Yes, it’s efficient. Yes, it’s effective. But it’s also the price of a kidney. I rather like my kidneys, so I guess my bank account will have to suffer.

Perhaps in the future, this online content will be free, or at least a reasonable price. Hopefully, professors will start returning to the less pricey methods of using technology in education, like using websites that offer their content for free, and publishers will get the message. Students hate paying a hundred dollars just for an A!

August Pritchett, Armstrong State University

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August Pritchett

Armstrong State University
English Communication

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