Access DeniedEarlier this week, the Student PIRGs released a new report on the growing use of access codes in college classrooms. These codes, which are marketed to professors as useful tools for improving the educational process, in fact also serve to maximize profits for textbook publishers.

Access codes are serial codes that allow students to unlock a digital learning suite – a web-based program that includes e-books, pre-made homework assignments, quizzes, tests, educational videos, and other multimedia content. It is becoming commonplace for professors to assign these learning suites as required course materials for their classes.

Publishers market these learning suites as cost-saving tools for students and time-saving tools for professors. However, in reality, forcing students to buy the access codes to these suites puts students in an even worse financial position.

With textbooks, students have options for how to minimize their expenses – they can buy a used book, they can rent the book, they can share the book with a classmate, they can check out a copy from the library, and so on. However, access codes have no such flexibility. Students have no choice but to buy any access code that has been assigned to them – without the code, they can’t access the homework, quizzes, or tests they need to pass the course. In addition, access codes are personalized and only last for the length of the course, so it’s impossible to share them, sell them used, or do anything else to reduce the cost.

It’s not surprising that textbook companies have invented a new way to make money off students. Students have become increasingly clever at finding ways to avoid paying full price for textbooks. With access codes, publishers have invented a resource that students can’t help buy, and at full price. It’s a great deal for publishers looking to boost profits and expand market dominance, but it’s a bad deal for students.

The rise of access codes is just one more reason why we need to invest in open textbooks and other open educational resources.

You can read the full report on access codes here.