This Issue’s College Issues: Online Access Codes and the Rising Cost of College

Why are you here at Lewis & Clark College? Did you enroll for the picturesque setting, the liberal campus atmosphere, or the close proximity to downtown Portland? Perhaps it was the Pio shuttle powered on potato chip oil or the highly successful football program. Whatever the reason, you enrolled in our wonderful institution and were christened as a Pioneer the second your first lclark.afford.com check cleared. Welcome!

Personally, my enrollment at LC was based upon a number of factors; the size of the college and the widely touted smaller class sizes were among the most important. When I came to LC, I expected to have my work — even the most irrelevant of busywork — critiqued and polished by my professors. I assumed the hefty price of tuition reflected the quality of education and academic rigor offered by the institution. While those expectations have been satisfied in many ways, there remains one rather unreasonable and unnecessary demand from certain classes that must be addressed, that of online textbook access codes.

There have been several classes — each required for graduation — during my time thus far at LC that required not only a $100+ textbook, but an accompanying online access code. These codes provide student access to an online platform for completing homework assignments and checking one’s grades, but rarely provide any other services. Essentially, the websites replicate everything already offered for free on Moodle. Often, the access codes can exceed $50-75 per semester. That additional $50-$75, stacked neatly atop the already ridiculously high prices our bookstore charges us, results in yet another expenditure students must forcibly comply with in order to succeed within the class. Without the code, one simply cannot complete the class.

What exactly are students gaining from these online access codes? The answer is, bluntly, additional homework assignments graded through computer algorithms. Our work is critiqued not by the professor our tuition pays to employ, but rather a computer program. In addition to the exorbitant and constantly rising costs of attending LC, we are now required to pay extra just to have our work completely overlooked by professors and instead graded online. We are forced to pay more to complete work our professors will likely never see, let alone offer suggestions on for improvement. It seems these access codes are simply another avenue by which our school may charge us more money for the same services.

An online platform for completing homework might indeed be useful within a larger collegiate environment. At many state colleges, where introductory science and math courses may easily exceed three hundred students, professors may find the online system more desirable than employing a TA to grade homework assignments. However, at a college where the average class size is 17 — a figure pulled directly from the LC Admissions website — it seems entirely unnecessary for such a platform to be offered. As students, we selected LC for the personalized classes and direct professorial attention, and online access codes provide neither.

The added costs of online access codes simply mirror the larger conversation surrounding the collegiate environment. Beyond LC, the rising cost of secondary education has positioned itself at the forefront of our government’s list of “Problems We’ll Get Around to Eventually,” nestled cozily between Social Security and climate change. Every year, our nation’s leaders find a more pressing issue — nonexistent email scandals, a new group of people to label “the other” or ripping healthcare access from the hands of millions — while students throughout the nation struggle to simply afford their collegiate education.

While a yearly increase in tuition costs is expected at most colleges, the exact percentage increase by which students are forced to pay to continue their education varies widely. At LC, that percentage increase is approximately 4.5percent, or around $2,250. That’s a $2,250 increase for — theoretically — the same services one was receiving the previous year. However, we know much has changed over the summer, and that $2,250 has fortunately gone to wonderful use. New, innovative features to our campus — including limited dining hours and closed walking bridges — have exhibited the college’s efficient monitoring of its finances. Add to that 4.5 percent increase these online access codes and the rising cost of textbooks, and one is forced to wonder, when will enough be enough?

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