Past SPARC Policy Priorities

$5 Million for Open Textbooks in FY18 Omnibus

Open Education

Congress funded a $5 million open textbook grant program in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus bill, the result of extensive advocacy by SPARC and our coalition partners. Grant applications are due to the Department of Education by August 29.

In March 2018, Congress included a first-ever $5 million federal appropriation to create an Open Textbook Pilot grant program. 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.

The Department of Education 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 more explicit instructions that specify a minimum of 20 awards and a longer application window to increase the opportunities for institutions to apply and get funding.


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, the FY18 omnibus appropriation bill ultimately included $5 million for an Open Textbook Pilot grant program. The bill was introduced on March 21, 2018 and signed into law two days later.

The Open Textbook Pilot is being implemented by the Department of Education through the Fund for the Improvement for Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) program. In the three months following the omibus bill’s passage, Congress and the Department engaged in correspondence about the purpose and details of the program. The Department initially committed to Congress that it would collect public input on the program, but ultimately ended up foregoing public input and issuing a call for proposals in July. Applications closed in August, and the winning proposal was announced in October 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.

Campaign for #OpenTextbooksFY18

Victory Announcement

Advocacy Resources

  • SPARC Letter to Congress – SPARC coordinated a letter signed by more than 60 of our member libraries from over 30 states. This letter was distributed to the leadership of both chambers of Congress, the appropriations committees, and the LHHS appropriations subcommittees.
  • U.S. PIRG Student Government Letter – Our coalition partner U.S. PIRG coordinated a letter to Congress signed by student government leaders. SPARC member libraries helped by forwarding this opportunity to their local student leadership.
  • #OpenTextbooksFY18 – The SPARC and OpenCon communities joined with U.S. PIRG and its student government network to organize a grassroots campaign to call, tweet and write to members of Congress to support funding for open textbooks. Hundreds of students, librarians, and other OER advocates took action.

Open Textbook Facts

  • 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.

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