Instant Access might just pave the way for bookstore progress

It’s officially fall semester. The sun sets a bit earlier each day, leaves begin to wither, the school year reaches the beginning of its cycle — and student fees start popping up on BroncoDirect like clickbait.

As if the current social climate weren’t chaotic enough already, the start of a college semester poses many of its own unique challenges for those still attempting to afford a higher education.

(Eddie Rangel | The Poly Post)

Textbooks and supplemental online programs are easily one of the most costly, yet subtle expenses in one’s college experience. Students are essentially given only two options when attaining their course texts directly through the school: the Bronco Bookstore or the door. However, there’s now another program offered which may be our saving grace.

Seldom does the university library hold a sufficient copy of textbooks for all students in most courses. Ultimately, if a student is dissatisfied with steep bookstore pricing, they have no choice but to resort to some other nonaffiliated and possibly questionable textbook/e-book provider — even if it is just to save a couple bucks.

Due to the common nature of this pesky issue at our school, Cal Poly Pomona administration established a system available to professors for providing required class materials directly to students in select courses. The program is called the Instant Access Program (IAP) and it is powered through the Bronco Bookstore.

Since its implementation last year, the program has served as an efficient and easy alternative to the typical methods many use to find affordable books, like scouring the internet for hours just to find a free PDF copy in the wrong edition.

Now I, like far too many of my fellow CPP students, have faced the unfortunate circumstance in which a professor demands the class purchase a pricey textbook that they collectively open twice throughout the entire semester.

After facing similar situations multiple times, I was initially skeptical of a program that was seemingly designed to only fuel the faculty’s insatiable need to ambush students with more required course materials. Thus, I decided to embark on a lengthy journey of online textbook hunting and price comparisons.

Pursuing a psychology minor, I’ve been expected to opt into the Instant Access Program for multiple course textbooks and learning platforms this semester alone.

Claiming to work with professors and publishers to provide the best deal for students, about a 25% to 60% discount on most print texts and approximately 10% to 20% discount on digital materials, the new bookstore program has not only become an increasingly popular option amongst psychology professors but also within the eight different colleges on campus so far.

Determined to find out whether these figures actually held up, I carefully searched for every book that had been added to my bookstore list.

In total, there were three required online materials I needed to get a hold of for my psychology courses this fall semester: one textbook offered on a new Macmillan software called LaunchPad, a third edition e-book and a supplemental discussion platform membership named Packback.

The Launchpad platform acts as a gradebook, workbook, and exam tool complementary to a typical textbook; therefore, its interactive features were a fundamental aspect of the course. At regular retail price, the Launchpad version of the book I needed, titled “Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology” was $75.99 for six months of access. Through the instant access program, the same version of the book was priced at approximately $69.

The second e-book, titled “The Mind’s Machine” did not require any extra features from an interactive platform but was scarcely available for electronic and print purchase online. Of the handful of reputable vendors I did encounter, I was able to find a used physical copy on Chegg at the price of $143.49. The instant access price for an updated, clean copy was $73.31.

Lastly, the online question-based platform, PackBack, has a retail price of $25, and remains roughly the same via the IAP.

Admittedly, the discounts are no Black Friday sale. Nonetheless, the program accomplishes exactly what it claims. It provides at least a 10 to 20% discount on brand-new digital texts and their integrated programs, all at the click of a single button.

I won’t ignore the fact that there are a growing number of databases that provide quality PDFs of college textbooks at a free or highly reduced price. But taking a gamble with an unsecured website would have consequences far more disastrous than spending a bit more cash on a reliable book.

Even when navigating well-known sites like LibGen for free e-books, the selection of viable textbook downloads are often very limited. In the majority of cases, a PDF is available in either the wrong edition, it’s nowhere to be found or it simply lacks crucial interactive components needed to achieve course objectives.

Moreover, seeking out textbooks from outside parties, such as eBay or Amazon, has recently resulted in high shipping costs and delivery delay due to the ongoing global pandemic.

If one is not yet fully convinced, the good news is that the program provides an option to opt-out with no charge to your account, as long as it’s done before the Sept. 8 deadline for fall semester.

Maybe the faculty isn’t out to get us after all.

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