Policy & Advocacy

Renew the Open Textbook Pilot Grant Program

Open Education

Congress has appropriated funding for an Open Textbook Pilot grant program for the past two fiscal years. SPARC is working to renew and strengthen this program for a third year.

In March 2018, Congress provided a first-ever $5 million federal appropriation to create an Open Textbook Pilot grant program through the FY18 Omnibus. Administered by the U.S. Department of Education and now renewed for a second year, the program supports projects at institutions of higher educations that create or expand the use of open textbooks to achieve savings for students. SPARC worked in partnership with U.S. PIRG to lead an extensive national campaign to advocate for this funding.

Fiscal Year 2020

As Congress approaches the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations cycle, SPARC and U.S. PIRG will coordinate a campaign to renew funding for a third year. Below are some immediate actions you can take to help raise awareness of the request, and stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Write To Congress

Click here to look up contact details for your Senators and Congressperson. Then click the dropdown below to get customizable text for an email to your members of Congress.

Subject: Renew Open Textbook Pilot in FY20

Dear _____,

I am a _____ working at a higher education institution in ____. I am writing to urge you to support renewal funding for the Open Textbook Pilot in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2020. 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 that are having a tangible impact for students, and more funding is needed 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. Every semester I see students struggling to access their required textbooks, which can cost $200 or more each. 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 future funding for the Open Textbook Pilot. Thank you for considering my request.


Tweet to Congress

Click here to look up Twitter accounts for your Senators and Congressperson. Then customize the tweets below. Make sure to use #OpenTextbookPilot & #OpenTextbooksFY20.

Hey [mention your congressperson and/or senators]! Students need your help to make college more affordable. Renew the #OpenTextbookPilot. #OpenTextbooksFY20

Textbook costs are out of control. We need [mention your congressperson and/or senators] to renew the #OpenTextbookPilot appropriation to help students afford to learn! #OpenTextbooksFY20

Students can’t learn from textbooks they can’t afford. [mention your congressperson and/or senators], please renew the #OpenTextbookPilot to make college affordable! #OpenTextbooksFY20

Talking Points
  • Open textbooks and open educational resources (OER) are academic materials that are freely available to download, edit and share to better serve all students. These materials come in all formats, including print and digital, and have an open copyright license that permits free and flexible use.
  • Numerous institutions of higher education have launched open textbook pilot programs.  An analysis of open textbook pilot programs by the Student PIRGs found that these programs saved students $128 per course on college textbook costs. If every undergraduate took one course that used an open textbook, students would save more than $1.4 billion per year.
  • Open textbook grant programs at the state level have a strong track record of achieving savings for students. States including Georgia and North Dakota have funded open textbook grant programs that have ultimately saved students more than ten times the amount invested. As such, a $5 million investment could save students $50 million or more.
  • Peer-reviewed research has found that students assigned free, open textbooks do as well or better than their peers in terms of grades, course completion, and other measures of academic success. Open textbooks can reduce costs while also supporting student success.

Implementation & History

The two-year bipartisan budget deal struck in early 2018 included $2 billion in designated funds for programs to aid college completion and affordability for both FY18 and FY19. SPARC and U.S. PIRG mounted a campaign to secure some of this funding to support textbook affordability through the expanded use of open textbooks. After a month-long all-out campaign that built on more than a decade of advocacy, Congress included $5 million in the FY18 omnibus appropriation bill for an Open Textbook Pilot grant program.

The Open Textbook Pilot is being implemented by the 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 backed by a broad national consortium. A second round of funding was approved by Congress in September 2018, including a set of instructions for the Department to improve implementation. The Department has yet to announce the second round of funding.

Fiscal Year 2018



Bill Report Language:

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.

Fiscal Year 2019



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 (Conference Report Page 61)

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.


How will the licensing requirements in the bill interact with the Department of Education’s open licensing rule?

In 2017, the Department of Education adopted a rule requiring that materials developed in whole or in part with discretionary grant funds be released to the public under an open license. The rule allows grantees to pick from a range of licenses, including those with a noncommercial or “share alike” provision, and has some exemptions. The omnibus language explicitly specifies the use of a license conditioned on attribution only. Generally speaking, direction from Congress is considered above Department regulations, so we expect the Department to stipulate the use of an attribution-only license. Other provisions in the rule still apply, such as the requirement to provide a plan to disseminate the openly licensed works created under the grant and certain exceptions.

When will grants be available?

The first round of funding (Fiscal Year 2018) has already been distributed. The second round of funding (Fiscal Year 2019) is still pending. In the report accompanying the FY19 funding bill, Congress instructed the Department to issue a new competition to apply for the available $5 million and to provide an application period of at least 60 days. While these instructions do not carry the force of law, federal agencies are generally expected to follow them.

It is worth noting that the Department structured the FY18 solicitation so that highly rated proposals could be funded with future appropriations, so that is another possible outcome. However, it would go against the recommendations from Congress.

Who is eligible to receive a grant?

Based on the Fiscal Year 2018 notice and report language provided by Congress, only institutions of higher education will be eligible to apply. Any future competitions will specify eligibility.

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