After reaching a long-awaited agreement on COVID-19 relief, the U.S. Congress passed a bill late last night approving $2.3 trillion in government spending. Deep within the expansive package is a win for open education: a $7 million renewal of the federal Open Textbook Pilot grant program for Fiscal Year 2021.
Once the overall bill is signed into law, it will bring the Open Textbook Pilot program’s total funding to $24 million since 2018. The program awards grants to colleges and universities to expand the use of open textbooks that save students money and improve learning outcomes—leveraging the flexibility of freely-available OER that is even more critical at these turbulent times. The victory is the result of advocacy work by SPARC, U.S. PIRG, and our champions on Capitol Hill, most notably Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, along with bipartisan support at the subcommittee level.
The U.S. Department of Education will have until September 30, 2021 to award the new $7 million in Open Textbook Pilot grants under its Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) program. Congress has instructed the Department to run a new competition in 2021 following the same structure established in 2020, including a 60 day application period and multiple awards. The timing of the new competition will depend on a number of factors including the incoming administration, but is expected to begin sometime in the first half of 2021.
In the meantime, the Department of Education is also nearing the December 31 deadline to award the $6 million in available grants from the 2020 Open Textbook Pilot competition. The winners are likely to be announced at the end of the month or early in the New Year.
SPARC and our allies will continue our efforts to renew and expand funding for this program in the next federal budget cycle, and work to permanently authorize an open textbook grant program through the Affordable College Textbook Act.