The Open Textbook Pilot is a U.S. federal grant program that supports projects at institutions of higher education that create or expand the use of open textbooks to achieve savings for students. First funded by Congress in the bipartisan fiscal year 2018 government spending bill then renewed annually, a total of $24 million has been appropriated for open textbook programs that benefit students across the country.
Act Now: Fiscal Year 2022 Renewal
SPARC and our allies are calling on Congress to continue funding the Open Textbook Pilot with a $25 million appropriation in the Fiscal Year 2021 federal budget. Especially at a time when campuses are seeking to expand their digital programs, there is a need to develop high quality, flexible materials that students can access no matter where they are. Open textbooks provide the perfect solution, while saving students millions in the process.
Write To Congress
Subject: Renew Open Textbook Pilot in FY22
I am a _____ working at a higher education institution in ____. I am writing to urge you to support $25 million in renewal funding for the Open Textbook Pilot in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2022. The Open Textbook Pilot provides grants to colleges and universities to expand the use of open textbooks to generate savings for students and improve learning outcomes. The program has already funded grants to create flexible, free, digital materials that are having a tangible impact for students during COVID-19, and funding should be dramatically increased to accelerate progress.
I have seen first hand why open textbooks are important. At the institution where I work, students face many financial pressures that impact their ability to succeed in college, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Every semester I see students struggling to access their required textbooks, which can cost $200 or more each, and the equity gap has only increased as students moved off campus. Open textbooks help solve this problem because they are freely available to download, edit, and share to better serve all learners.
At my institution, we are doing what we can to expand the use of open textbooks, and have seen the positive impacts there are for students — not just for reducing costs, but also for making courses more engaging. However, we need more support and capacity in order to accelerate the use of open textbooks to reach more students.
That is why I urge you to support funding for the Open Textbook Pilot with $25 million. Thank you for considering my request.
Tweet to Congress
Hey [mention your senators/rep]! Students need your help to make college more affordable. Expand the #OpenTextbookPilot to $25M to help all students get access to high quality course materials. #OpenTextbooksFY22
Textbook costs are out of control, and publisher paywalls make access harder. We need [mention your senators/rep] to renew the #OpenTextbookPilot at $25M to help students afford to learn—no mater where they are! #OpenTextbooksFY22
Students can’t learn from textbooks they can’t afford or access. [mention your senators/rep], please renew the #OpenTextbookPilot at $25M to expand free resources available to all students! #OpenTextbooksFY22
2020 Funded Projects
- West Hills College Lemoore (CA), $1,999,924.00 for California Consortium for Equitable Change in Hispanic Serving Institutions Open Educational Resources (focus on culturally relevant OER)
- Middlesex County College (NJ), $1,444,068.00 for Open Textbook Collaborative Project (STEM/CTE focused)
- Louisiana Board of Regents (LA), $1,985,881.00 for Interactive OER for Dual Enrollment
- The University of Texas at Arlington (TX), $582,322.00 for OERTransport: Enabling Transportation Planning Professional Advancement
The Open Textbook Pilot was established through the two-year bipartisan budget deal for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, as part of a $2 billion in annual funds designated for college completion and affordability. When this deal was announced in early 2018, SPARC and U.S. PIRG snapped into action with a month-long campaign to secure some of this funding for open textbooks. Building on a decade of advocacy work for open education on Capitol Hill, we succeeded in securing a $5 million appropriation for the Open Textbook Pilot in the FY18 omnibus appropriation bill, then succeeded in renewing and expanding the funding annually. We continue to advocate for permanent authorizing language through the Affordable College Textbook Act.
The Open Textbook Pilot is implemented by the U.S. Department of Education through the Fund for the Improvement for Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) program. The Department awarded the first round of funding in October 2018, providing a sole grant of approximately $5 million to the large open textbook project LibreTexts with a broad national consortium (check out SPARC’s profile of LibreTexts here). In February 2019, the Department awarded the second round of funding to Chippewa Valley Technical College and Arizona State University, providing approximately $2.5 million each for proposals submitted during the first round. The third round of awards will be chosen by December 31, 2020.
SPARC and U.S. PIRG have jointly advocated for renewed funding and strengthening of this program, including holding Open Education Week on Capitol Hill in 2019. Our continued advocacy has secured several improvements:
- Annual funding has been increased to $7 million in FY21 and FY20, from $5 million in FY18 and FY19. This is a strong statement that Congress supports the program.
- The FY20 Explanatory Statement directed the Department of Education to run a public comment period in order to gather input on the priorities and structure of the grant competitions, along with extending the application period to 60 days and giving the Department 3 extra months to implement the program.
- The FY21 Explanatory Statement ensures that the improvements developed in previous years will be continued.
- Each year the program has been funded, Congress has underscored the importance of open licensing. This expands on the Department’s existing open licensing rule.
- SPARC FY18 letter to Congress (March 6, 2018) – SPARC coordinated a letter signed by more than 60 of our member libraries from over 30 states.
- #OpenTextbooksFY18 Social Media Campaign
- SPARC FY18 victory announcement & press statement (March 20, 2018)
- SPARC recommendations to the Department of Education (April 25, 2018)
- SPARC FY19 letters to House and Senate subcommittee leadership (May 10, 2018)
- #OpenTextbooksFY19 social media campaign
- SPARC FY19 letter to subcommittee leadership (September 5, 2018)
- SPARC FY19 victory announcement (September 26, 2018)
- SPARC Congressional Briefing (March 4, 2019)
- SPARC FY20 letter to subcommittee leadership (June 13, 2019)
- SPARC FY20 victory announcement (December 17, 2019)
- SPARC Open Textbook Pilot Comment Guide (April 9, 2020)
- SPARC FY20 Open Textbook Pilot Public Comment (April 30, 2020)
- SPARC FY21 letter to Senate subcommittee leadership (June 25, 2020)
- Letter from Congressional authors to the Department of Education (April 18, 2018)
- Senate Dear Colleague letter (April 13, 2018)
- Response from the Department of Education to Congress (May 2, 2018)
- Department of Education call for proposals (issued July 30, 2018, due August 29, 2018)
- Letter from Senate champions to the Department of Education (August 2, 2018)
- Department of Education Recorded Technical Assistance Webinar (August 15, 2018)
- Letter from Congressional champions to subcommittee leadership (September 5, 2018)
- Letter from Congressional champions to Department of Education (October 12, 2018)
- Letter from Senator Durbin and Ranking Member Murray to Department of Education (February 25, 2019)
Congress included funding for the Open Textbook Pilot in each of the respective FY18, FY19, FY20, and FY21 funding bills for the Department of Education. As is often the case in the appropriations process, the language describing the specifics of the appropriations appeared in reports that accompany the legislation, not in bill language itself. While the norm has been that report language is treated as an extension of the bill, although in FY19 some of the requirements were not implemented by the Department of Education.
Open Textbook Pilot.-The agreement includes $7,000,000 to continue the Open Textbook Pilot and support a new grant competition in fiscal year 2021. The Department is directed to issue a notice inviting applications and allow for a 60- day application period. This funding should support a significant number of grant awards with the same terms and conditions as specified for this activity in the fiscal year 2020 notice and House Report 116-450.
Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education
The agreement includes $24,500,000 for FIPSE, to remain available through December 31, 2020, for the following activities.
Open Textbook Pilot.-The agreement includes $7,000,000 to continue the Open Textbook Pilot and fund a new grant competition in fiscal year 2020. The Department shall issue a notice inviting applications consistent with notice and comment procedures and allow for a 60-day application period. This funding should support a significant number of grant awards to IHEs as defined by 20 U.S.C. 1001, a group of IHEs, or State higher education agencies that lead the activities of (and serve as fiscal agent for) a consortium. Funding should be used to create new open textbooks and expand the use of open textbooks in courses that are part of a degree granting program, and particularly those with high enrollments. Allowable uses of funds should include professional development for faculty and staff, including relating to the search for and review of open textbooks; the creation or adaptation of open textbooks; development or improvement of tools and informational resources that support the use of open textbooks, including accessible instructional materials for students with disabilities; and research evaluating the efficacy of the use of open textbooks for achieving savings for students and the impact on instruction and student learning outcomes. The Secretary shall require that any open textbooks created with these funds shall be released to the public under a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, and irrevocable license to exercise any of the rights under copyright conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given as directed by the copyright owner. Further, any tools, technologies, or other resources that are created, developed, or improved wholly or in part with these funds for use with any open textbook must be similarly licensed. Any eligible entity receiving a grant through the Open Textbooks Pilot, upon completion of the supported project, shall report to the Secretary regarding the effectiveness of the project in expanding the use of open textbooks and in achieving savings for students; the impact of the project on expanding the use of open textbooks at IHEs outside of the institution receiving the grant; open textbooks created or adapted under the grant, including instructions on where the public can access each open textbook; the impact of the project on instruction and student learning outcomes; and all project costs, including the value of any volunteer labor and institutional capital used for the project. The Secretary shall make such reports publicly available.
FY19 Language Part I (Senate Report 115-289)
The Committee recommendation includes $5,000,000 for the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. The recommendation includes the full amount the Open Textbook Pilot first funded in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, and for the purposes described in the accompanying explanatory statement. This funding supports grants to one or a group of institutions of higher education for creating new open textbooks for use by students in courses, especially those with high enrollments, that are part of a degree granting program and expanding the use of open textbooks in such courses. Funds may be used for professional development for faculty and staff at institutions of higher education; creation or adaptation of open textbooks; development or improvement of tools and informational resources that support the use of open textbooks, including accessible instructional materials for students with disabilities; research evaluating the efficacy of the use of open textbooks for achieving savings for students and the impact on instruction and student learning outcomes; and partnerships with other entities to carry out any of these activities. In addition, the Committee directs the Department to require any institution of higher education receiving a grant through the Open Textbook Pilot to report to the Secretary regarding the effectiveness of the project in expanding the use of open textbooks and in achieving savings for students; the impact of the project on expanding the use of open textbooks at institutions of higher education outside of the institution receiving the grant; open textbooks created or adapted under the grant, including instructions on where the public can access each open textbook; the impact of the project on instruction and student learning outcomes; and all project costs, including the value of any volunteer labor and institutional capital used for the project. Such reports should be made publicly available.
FY19 Language Part II (House Report 115-952)
Open Textbooks Pilot.-The conferees recommend that the Secretary award the funds provided in this Act through a new competition and make not less than 20 new grants with individual grants of between $100,000 and $1,000,000. The conferees recommend that the application deadline for the notice inviting grant applications for fiscal year 2019 be not less than 60 days from the date the notice is published. Further, any tools, technologies, or other resources that are created, developed, or improved wholly or in part with Pilot funds for use with an open textbook must be licensed under a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, and irrevocable license to the public to exercise any of the rights under copyright conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given as directed by the copyright owner.
Open Textbooks Pilot.-The agreement includes $5,000,000 for a pilot, competitive grant program to support projects at institutions of higher education that create new open textbooks or expand their use in order to achieve savings for students while maintaining or improving instruction and student learning outcomes. The Secretary shall require that any open textbook created with program funds be licensed under a nonexclusive, irrevocable license to the public to exercise any of the rights under copyright conditioned only on the requirement that attribution be given as directed by the copyright owner. Further, the Secretary should give special consideration to projects at institutions of higher education that demonstrate the greatest potential to achieve the highest level of savings for students through sustainable, expanded use of open textbooks in postsecondary courses offered by the eligible entity and expand the use of open textbooks at institutions of higher education outside of the eligible entity.
Will there be a new call for proposals in 2021?
With the $7 million appropriated for Fiscal Year 2021, Congress included instructions for the Department of Education to run a new competition to award the funds. The competition must follow the same terms and conditions as the 2020 competition, including the 60 day application period and multiple awards.
That said, it is too early to predict that the impact that this year’s many unusual circumstances may have on the process—including the pandemic, the Presidential transition, the delay in approving the FY2021 budget, and the overlap with the FY2020 competition. This page will be kept up to date with updates.
When would a 2021 call for proposals be issued?
The Fiscal Year 2021 funding was approved on December 27, 2020 and must be awarded by September 30, 2021. If there is a new competition in 2021, a call for proposals for Fiscal Year 2021 would almost certainly need to be released before June 2021 in order to comply with procedural deadlines. The call for proposals would be published in the Federal Register.
Will the program be renewed in 2022?
Congress is currently in the midst of deciding on the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2022. Congress needs to hear from advocates like you that the program is important in order to ensure continued funding. See above for actions you can take today!