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Assignments should be free for students

By Jason Herring, September 29, 2015 —

pride myself on being a thrifty university student. When I pay my tuition, I triple-check to make sure I’ve opted-out of any fees that aren’t mandatory. I don’t buy textbooks unless they’re absolutely necessary. If I have to buy one, I find it cheap on Kijiji and hope to make some of the money back selling it next semester. I take full advantage of Subway’s gift card promotion to get the most expensive sandwiches on the menu for free.

Because I put a lot of effort into saving money at university, it’s frustrating when I’m faced with something I have little choice but to buy at full price, which is something I encountered last week when I tried to complete my first ECON 201 assignment. Assignments for the course are viewed and completed through Nelson Education’s ‘Mindtap’ website. Access to this website is available for a cool $99.95.

Here’s how it works. If you buy a new textbook, it comes with a code that grants you access to Mindtap for the semester. If you don’t want to buy a textbook, you have to purchase standalone access to the course. That’s the cheaper option, but not by much. You can’t buy a used textbook because there’s no code for the website.

Once you’re on the site you can browse through an online textbook and complete assignments and practice questions. It’s a useful website, but it’s frustrating that you need to pay to use it. There’s an option to use a limited version of the site for free, but the limited hours and availability of computers at the Taylor Family Digital Library and the Arts Faculty Computer Lab make that difficult.

There’s a wide array of these websites for various courses. Last year, I paid to use Lyryx Learning, MasteringPhysics and MyMathLab. All these websites also offered free access at specified computer labs on campus, but my daily commute is long enough that it isn’t feasible for me to finish all my assignments at school.

I pay my tuition and my mandatory fees. And I think paying my tuition should give me the ability to complete the class I’m taking. My assignments for the class are worth 20 per cent of my grade, and I don’t think I should be pressured to pay more in order to get those marks. Classes should never require a payment beyond pre-established tuition for the completion of marked coursework.

But I guess this demonstrates some of the lessons I’m being taught in my microeconomics class — I’ve decided I value my time and convenience more than I value the price for Mindtap, so I bought access to the website.

And I’ve seen that when you have a monopoly on a service and students have no other options, you can charge them whatever you want.

Jason Herring is a second-year computer science student. He writes a monthly column about problems facing University of Calgary students called Old Man Yells at Cloud

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