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.

The Open Textbook Pilot is a federal grant program that supports projects at institutions of higher educations that create or expand the use of open textbooks to achieve savings for students. First funded by Congress in the bipartisan fiscal year 2018 budget bill then renewed for a second year, the program has awarded $10 million in grants through the U.S. Department of Education.

SPARC and U.S. PIRG co-lead a national campaign to secure this first-ever federal funding, and we are now working to renew and strengthen the funding for a third year.

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. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Current Status

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. Congress renewed the funding in FY19.

The Open Textbook Pilot is being 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. This decision went against instructions from Congress to run a new competition.

Congress will begin the FY2020 budget cycle in spring 2019, and will have the opportunity to renew and strengthen the Open Textbook Pilot to ensure there is more funding and that the Department implements the program according to Congressional intent.


SPARC Advocacy


Policy Language

Congress included $5 million in federal funding for the Open Textbook Pilot in each of the respective FY18 and FY19 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 historical norm has been that report language is treated as an extension of the bill, the Department did not adhere to these norms for the FY19 Open Textbook Pilot appropriation.

FY18 Language (Explanatory Statement to accompany H.R. 1625)

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.

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.


Why didn’t the Department of Education open a call for applications in 2019?

The Department of Education designed the Fiscal Year 2018 Open Textbook Pilot competition so that it could retain a slate of high-ranking proposals in the event that Congress appropriated additional funding for the program. This is a common practice for smaller grant programs, and under normal circumstances would not have been unusual. However, Congress included explicit instructions in the report accompanying the FY19 appropriation directing the Department to run a new competition, along with a set of guidelines in order to address concerns that emerged through the Department’s implementation of the first round. The Department was expected to follow these guidelines because it is conventional for federal agencies to treat report language as an extension of law. However, because it was not written into law, the Department was able to bypass these instructions and fund the existing slate.

When will more grants be available?

The first round of funding (Fiscal Year 2018) was distributed in September 2018. The second round of funding (Fiscal Year 2019) was distributed in February 2019. The program would need to be renewed by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Department of Education budget in order for any additional funding to be available. If renewed, the earliest date new funding could be available is the start of Fiscal Year 2020, which begins on October 1, 2019.

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.

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.

Learn more about our work