Report Finds ‘Access Code’ Bundles Contributing to Increasing Textbook Costs

College textbooks are generally assigned by the professor of any given course. But despite the growing online market for discounted textbooks, the average cost of textbooks has risen four times faster than the inflation rate over the past decade.

This continuously increasing cost has caused 65% of college students to choose not to buy required books because they simply couldn’t afford them.

A recent report found that textbooks bundled with “access codes” seem to be the main culprit. The report, published by Student Public Interest Research Groups, looked at the cost of course materials for the 10 largest courses at 40 two-year and four-year nonprofit college institutions. The data showed that students who had required textbook bundles were paying 32% to 68% more than students who could buy used textbooks instead.

Nearly four in 10 college courses bundled their texts with access codes, giving students access to workbooks and tests as well as the textbooks, according to a USPIRG study. It was found that access codes were especially prevalent in introductory courses.

Because of rising costs, students will often not buy the required text but instead, try to find it for free online. However, these online texts can be incorrect and people are less engaged with digital material, which is generally skimmed in 15 seconds.

Unfortunately, the high cost of textbooks is not a new problem. The Advisory Committee for Student Financial Assistance reported in 2006 that textbook prices had risen 186% within eight years. One major problem found is that students typically have no say in selecting course materials. It’s left up to the professors instead and they’re not always worried about what their decision will cost their students.

In 2008, the Higher Education Act reauthorization required publishers to disclose textbook pricing to professors. Additionally, publishers were required to offer all components of a course bundle for sale separately.

To get around this requirement, publishers often choose to offer the components for sale individually, but not necessarily at the right campus bookstore. Because of this, students may not even be aware they can purchase the separate components for less somewhere else.

Senior Director of education policy and innovation at the Association of American Publishers, David Anderson, disputed the findings in the Student Public Interest Research Groups study.

Anderson claimed that the materials accessed in bundle deals often offer a personalized experience that provides valuable information and data to professors. Additionally, he said there are recent publisher initiatives, such as rental options, that are contributing to a reduced cost of course materials, but were not mentioned in the study.

“The industry is moving very aggressively to improve student performance and reduce costs for students,” said Anderson.

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