ACCESS DENIED: The New Face of the Textbook Monopoly

Amid rising college costs, college textbooks are often overlooked. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that textbook prices have increased by 88% in the past decade, compared to a 63% increase in college tuition and fees. For students and families already struggling to afford college tuition, hundreds of dollars for course materials often comes out-of-pocket and can be a serious barrier to student success.

These high prices are not without consequence. In prior reports, the Student PIRGs found that two-thirds of students skipped buying a textbook because of cost. Nearly 50% of students reported that textbook prices impact which and how many courses they were able to take. Another 33% of students reported using financial aid to purchase their textbooks.

The growth of cost-saving alternatives like used textbooks and free, openly-licensed educational resources have forced publishers to reassess their business and shift toward a new model: access codes.

In brief, access codes are serial numbers that allow students to unlock an online learning suite. These platforms often contain digital books, pre-made homework assignments, quizzes, tests, educational videos, and other multimedia content. The access code, once registered, becomes null and may not be used by any student in a different course or semester.

Given the rapid expansion of this new product in the marketplace, this report contains two pieces: a survey of critical consumer-oriented information on the potential impact of access codes, and an analysis of the transition from the student perspective.

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