In addition to buying physical textbooks, some students have to buy access codes to do homework

Posted at 4:59 PM, Aug 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-29 17:26:13-04

All Wardell Wilson wants to do is complete his Spanish homework and call it a day.

You would think the USF junior had everything he would need: a textbook, spiral notebook, pens and a computer.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy.

Like many students on campuses around the nation, Wilson must purchase a code to access supplementary materials online.

The material includes assignments, quizzes, audio recordings and educational videos. 

In other words, Wilson is paying to do 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.

Many professors are turning to these digital learning systems for coursework because companies that used to strictly print textbooks are touting this as the future of textbooks.

"If you have a phone, a computer or an iPad you can pretty much access your homework anywhere," explained Ralph Mones, a junior at USF.

Students are weighing the pros and cons.

"That's the way you turn your papers in so that way they don't have to take in papers anymore," Wilson added.

According to Wilson, for four classes, he paid $800 for books and that includes the purchase of multiple access codes.

"Without the online code you can't get credit for your work," Wilson said.

Some students feel this is price-gouging.

"Without the code, you are not going to pass the class. It is a guaranteed fail," Wilson said.

You can still purchase a textbook that has been used provided it is the proper edition your course requires.

And, the book companies offer the digital version of a textbook for cheaper.  However, the access code is still sold separately.

"It is like $160 to $140 between the digital and the physical textbook. I still can't afford it," Mones said.

While you can still attempt to sell the book back at the end of the semester, there are no selling access codes back.

Some students say they have issues with digital textbooks because they like to physically hold the book.  And, you cannot print out any pages from the digital books--that is to prevent sharing among students.

"You get to use it for a semester and then usually you get locked out like after the semester ends, so you don't have it anymore," explained Jessica Fast, a student.

That means, after the semester ends, there's no way to sell the digital textbook back and you don't own it or have further access to it.


Currently, the Board of Governors is actively evaluating textbook usage across the State University System, USF Spokesperson Lara Wade told ABC Action News in an email.

Wade explained USF has  been actively seeking opportunities to improve textbook affordability since 2010, by doing the following:

  • Since 2010, the USF System has employed a range of textbook affordability initiatives to reduce costs. The combined student savings over that period for all of the initiatives with quantifiable results is over $11.6 million.
  • ·As outlined in the 2015 overview a, the TEXTBOOK AFFORDABILITY PROJECT  -- or TAP -- includes four primary components: the comprehensive website, Textbooks on Course Reserve, Ebooks in the Classroom [saved $1.4 million], and Open-Access Textbooks.
  • USF is leveraging library-licensed content to reduce costs by offering alternatives to traditional textbooks and providing access to tools and information to facilitate actions to save. We’ve also been nationally active with 28 like-minded institutions who seek to reduce textbook costs. Our 3-semester electronic textbook pilot collectively saved nearly 5,000 students more than a half million dollars.
  •  In collaboration with Innovative Education, the USF Libraries published one open-access textbook authored by USF faculty in 2016 and will publish the second title in 2017. These efforts will save USF students a projected $672,000 over six semesters with additional savings accruing for each adoption beyond the estimated utilization.

ABC Action News also contacted HCC and St. Pete College but did not immediately hear back. Officials with the University of Tampa say they do have courses that require access codes.