Students at all levels – from high school to community college to graduate studies – will benefit from the latest round of grants awarded through the U.S. Open Textbook Pilot grant program. Receiving a total of $6 million in federal funds divided among four projects, the 2020 grantees are poised to save students more than $50 million in textbook costs within the next three years.
Run by the U.S. Department of Education, the Open Textbook Pilot program provides grants to colleges and universities to expand the use of open textbooks in order to reduce textbook costs and improve student outcomes. Congress has provided a total of $24 million in funding since the program’s inception in 2018, including $7 million that will be awarded in 2021. SPARC has been an active proponent of the program, and will continue lobbying Congress to secure renewal funding in the next federal budget cycle.
In keeping with our previous profiles on the 2018 and 2019 grantees, SPARC provides a first look at how the latest round of grantees will have an impact for students.
West Hills College Lemoore: Culturally Relevant OER and Training Materials
As a rural, Hispanic Serving Institution, West Hills College Lemoore in central California has students who are struggling to make ends meet.
“Students are choosing classes by the textbook or not taking a class because of the cost,” said Ron Oxford, librarian on campus. “We are halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, yet we have a huge digital divide. Many students from these rural, farm communities don’t have internet access.”
To help make college more affordable, the library has embraced OER and developed pathways for students to get a degree without having to ever buy a textbook. WHCL helped 23 other colleges create zero-textbook pathways in partnership with the College of the Canyons and the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.
Now, with its new $2 million OER Textbook Pilot grant, WHCL will work in consortium with College of Marin, Allan Hancock College, and College of the Canyons to create OER materials for 20 courses. Those selected are the top one-third of courses at the four institutions that have the highest enrollment. Looking through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, each OER book will have some element of DEI woven into the subject matter.
“We really feel like California is starting to gel [with OER]. Instead of silo work, we are working more in tandem so we can get more done – and more bang for our buck,” Oxford said, noting the four grant partners represent rural, urban, large and small institutions.
It is projected that the 20 courses will have an estimated cost-savings of at least $2,214,216 by December of 2023, at an average savings of $91.80 per student per course. After broad dissemination of the created textbooks, this total savings is expected to greatly increase.
Middlesex College: Open Textbooks for STEM and CTE
Middlesex College in Edison, New Jersey, designed its OER grant project to support students pursuing four growth areas in career and technical education: global manufacturing and supply chain management, innovation and technology, health services and energy. Its Open Textbook Collaborative Project will involve a consortium with 17 New Jersey community colleges and one four-year university to develop open textbooks for high-enrollment STEM courses.
“We’re very excited to use this grant to make this project a reality for our students and increase student success,” said Marilyn Ochoa, library director at Middlesex College. “My colleagues and I have a passion for OER and making it more visible to our presidents across the state. We wanted to think of ways we could help everybody in the state and beyond.”
The more than $1.4 million grant will complement and coordinate with an initiative by the New Jersey Council of Community Colleges centered on the four areas where jobs are expected to be in demand in the future. The OTC Project will create high quality OER textbooks for 12 highly enrolled STEM courses that are introductory, gateway courses in those fields that meet industry standards. It will also create communities of practice of academics and industry partners, conduct training and professional development, and establish an open repository with publishing tools to create and share the OER course collection.
The impact? By working collaboratively with campuses across the state, the grant is expected to benefit 34,000 students saving them $47.6 million over three years.
Louisiana Board of Regents: Interactive OER for Dual Enrollment
The nearly $2 million grant awarded to the Louisiana Board of Regents and LOUIS: the Louisiana Library Network will make it more affordable for high school students seeking college credit to participate in dual-enrollment classes.
The project provides funds to LOUIS in partnership with Pressbrooks to curate and create OER for 25 of the state’s general education courses, offered as both dual and traditional enrollment options. The courses selected will be those that have the greatest impact on narrowing the equity gap – those in which underserved students had high rates of failing grades or withdrawal from the course in the 2019-20 school year.
“Universal dual enrollment access is a priority in the state because research shows that students that take these classes are more likely to enroll in college and complete a degree. This priority dovetails nicely with our goals with the Open Textbooks Grant of eliminating textbook costs for these courses and meeting the needs of diverse learners,” said Teri Gallaway, associate commissioner and executive director of LOUIS, which serves a wide range of institutions across the state including HBCUs and community colleges. “Textbook costs are often passed to students and can keep them from taking dual enrollment classes.”
A task force identified large equity gaps with dual enrollment that included issues with cost, awareness, and transportation. OER can help address those barriers to participation, said Gallaway, and the grant funding will support training of local technical experts to construct comprehensive, interactive courses for use in both secondary dual enrollment and post-secondary academic settings.
The potential savings to students from the Louisiana grant is $2.3 million for 23,000 students expected to be served by the 25 new OER courses.
The University of Texas at Arlington: Transportation Planning OER
As students progress to graduate education, textbook costs can be significant. The grant of nearly $600,000 awarded to University of Texas at Arlington funds a project in consortium with California Polytechnic State University and University of South Florida to create open learning materials for a transportation professional certificate program.
The three institutional partners plan to work with transportation agencies, employers, university libraries and centers for teaching and learning to develop OER for six graduate courses for a new post-baccalaureate certificate in Transportation Planning.
“Transportation planning is an in-demand profession and making more textbooks available for free can help students connect with a certificate program to gain those skills needed,” said Ivonne Audirac, associate professor in the city and regional planning at UTA, and lead coordinator of the new initiative—OERTransport: Enabling Transportation Planning Professional Advancement.
The new OER is expected to save $650 in students’ textbook expenditures over the six courses. The average total tuition saving for students who gain marketable transportation planning skills by completing the Transportation Planning and Policy Certificate program rather than a complete master’s degree will be $18,646 for residents and $42,427 for non-residents.
Katherine Willeford, learning resources librarian, says OER has been a priority at UTA, a diverse institution serving 40,000 students from every state and more than 100 countries. With the new grant, UTA Libraries plans to assist with identifying existing content, addressing copyright and licensing issues and leveraging UTA’s open publishing platform.
“We are excited to support this project, which will lead to significant cost savings for students on the graduate level,” Willeford said. The Libraries anticipate high demand for these textbooks once they are in circulation and hope the project inspires other faculty to explore our OER services and collaborate on grant funding.
“There is a lot of energy and expectations around OER and we want to be part of that,” Audirac added. “This is a movement that is worldwide based on the notion of equity, which is great for higher education. We are glad to be able to contribute.”