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LibreTexts wins inaugural Open Textbook Pilot grant

By Kaitlyn Vitez
Director, Campaign to Save Student Aid

A federal program that will save college students millions of dollars on textbooks and other online course materials finally has been implemented after a whirlwind grassroots campaign by students led by U.S. PIRG -- and months of anxious waiting. The U.S. Department of Education announced today that it is awarding nearly $5 million to LibreTexts, a nonprofit based at the University of California at Davis.

LibreTexts is one of the most popular sources for open textbooks, which are free online materials students can access in lieu of costly traditional books and additional course materials hidden behind paywalls. LibreTexts focuses on developing and sharing materials for STEM disciplines. It currently hosts nearly 400 textbooks and other course materials on its website.

LibreTexts partnered with schools in more than a dozen states to get the grant. The Department awarded the full $4.9 million in available funding to LibreTexts, which will use the grant to write more textbooks and ensure that chemistry majors don’t need to pay for them. The money will also help LibreTexts develop other textbooks for career and technical education.

UC Davis associate chemistry professor Delmar Larsen, director of LibreTexts, says, “Millions of students and parents are counting on us to achieve a significant impact through this project, and we are committed to living up to that potential.”

This inaugural award to a leader in the affordable textbook movement is a great first step towards increasing open educational resource (OER) adoption on a national scale. But the implementation of the FY18 pilot funding had its growing pains.

When our students and allies in the open education movement pushed Congress for this pilot funding, the idea was to replicate the model that the Student PIRGs have campaigned for at colleges such as the University of Connecticut and Rutgers University. There, faculty receive small grants to facilitate their transition to open textbooks, which are then made available to students for free online or at a low cost in print.

While grateful for the promised funding, many in the open education community were dismayed by the short application window, the eligibility restriction to consortia, and the small number of grants: a maximum of three. While this inaugural Open Textbook Pilot isn’t the original vision we had for the program, the single grant to LibreTexts will help students nationwide save more money on textbooks. We have a lot to celebrate. We’re optimistic that LibreTexts will be able to create new OER that will reach even more students than ever, and that next year’s pilot program will be able to resolve these concerns.

The FY19 budget signed by the president last week renews the program with new guidance: the application window will be 60 days, a minimum of 20 grants will be awarded, and better open licensing rules will be applied. We’re looking forward to the next round of grants and expanding these incredible savings to even more students across the country.

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