When You Have to Pay $150 to Do Your Homework

Educational companies are charging college students for the privilege of turning in assignments.

One more obstacle before you can graduate.

So we all know that college textbooks cost students hundreds of dollars every semester—the College Board has research showing that the average student pays $1,300 per year on books and supplies—but we also know that there are a handful of ways of mitigating this expense.

  • You can buy used textbooks. (I did that in college.)
  • You can sell your textbooks back at the end of the semester. (Did that too.)
  • You can share books with other students. (Yup, did that.)
  • You can get books out of the library instead of buying them. (Did that. Also did the thing where you just photocopy the pages you need.)

But students are finding out that there’s one expense you can’t lifehack your way around: the $100+ access code required to turn in your homework.

We’re all digital learners now, as the phrase goes, and that means today’s students get to submit assignments online instead of printing them out in magenta ink because class is in 10 minutes and the cheap printer they bought at Walmart says they’re out of toner even though they can totally see black ink in the little thing, just print it already.

It also means that educational companies can sell students individual login codes—digital items that cannot be shared, resold, or photocopied at the library.

As BuzzFeed reports:

“When we talk about access codes we see it as the new face of the textbook monopoly, a new way to lock students around this system,” said Ethan Senack, the higher education advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, to BuzzFeed News.
“Rather than $250 [for a print textbook] you’re paying $120,” said Senack. “But because it’s all digital it eliminates the used book market and eliminates any sharing and because homework and tests are through an access code, it eliminates any ability to opt out.”

“Lock students around this system.”

“Eliminates any ability to opt out.”

I am so glad I’m not in college right now.

BuzzFeed reports, unsurprisingly, that there are students who can’t buy into this system—they have to pay rent, they haven’t gotten their paycheck yet, etc.—and because of this they are deliberately electing to take zeroes on assignments. They might know the material, but they don’t have the cash required to prove it.

ABC Action News follows one University of South Florida student, Wardell Wilson, to learn how much he has to pay to complete his homework:

“The codes themselves cost at least $100,” explained Wilson. “This code by itself cost $150.”
Wilson had no choice but to pay the money in addition to the $90 textbook he already purchased.
“Since freshman year, my classes have all had online textbooks,” he added.

Sure, college costs money, and having access to stuff that can make your life better—a car, a computer—costs money, but there’s something about charging for this particular access point that feels unfair.

It may be that we’re stuck on this myth of being able to do anything you want, including educating yourself, through grit. Go to the library. Sleep in the library, if you don’t have anywhere else to stay. Borrow a friend’s computer to do your homework. Add a little water to that printer cartridge.

But getting a good education—that is to say, getting a degree—isn’t just about grit, or hard work. You also need money, and now you need literal access codes.

And they’ll cost you at least $100 each.