Are online access codes the new textbook monopoly?

Costly online access codes often force students to pay even more for required course content and tests.

Though the high cost of textbooks and course materials has prompted many faculty to move to free online resources, a majority students who wish to unlock course-specific required online learning resources are still faced with costly access code fees.

Access codes are serial numbers that allow students to unlock online learning software. These platforms often contain digital books, homework assignments, quizzes, tests, and more. The access code, once registered, becomes null and may not be used by a different student in a different course or semester.

Access Denied, a new report from the Student PIRGs, investigates the growth of online access codes on campuses across the nation.

“Online access codes are the new face of the textbook monopoly,” said Ethan Senack, Higher Education Advocate at the Student PIRGs. “In one swoop, the publishers remove a student’s ability to opt-out of buying their product, eliminate any and all competition in the market, and look good doing it because the codes are cheaper than publisher’s exorbitantly priced textbooks.”

(Next page: Top findings on access codes from the report)

Laura Ascione

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