The 2020 Open Textbook Pilot: why it matters and how to apply

The U.S. Department of Education is distributing $7 million in grants to support open textbook creation and adoption. Here's what you should know before you apply.

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Since the early 2000s, the Student PIRGs have centered on open textbooks as a key way to make college more affordable. Although textbooks continue to be one of the most expensive out of pocket costs for college students, textbook prices have stabilized in the past few years – and the increased use of free open textbooks have played a big part in that. 

Three years ago, the Student PIRGs worked with a broad coalition of student leaders, librarians, faculty, and members of Congress to establish a federal Open Textbook Pilot grant program. This program has given key resources to open textbook projects at colleges and universities across the country, such as UC DavisLibreTexts, the Wisconsin Technical College System’s OpenRN, and Arizona State University’s Consortium for Open Active Pathways

COVID-19 has moved classes online and caused educators across the country to look for ways to cut costs for students. Open textbooks are on the rise. They provide a solution that not only lowers the cost of a college degree, but provide more flexibility for faculty and students in this unprecedented moment for higher education, and our country. We encourage institutions and systems to apply for this new round of grants and expand their own investment in open textbooks. 

After incorporating feedback from public comments, the newest version of the Open Textbook Pilot grant more closely reflects Congressional intent as well as community input. This latest grant cycle opened September 15th and runs until November 16th, with some exciting changes that expanded the number of awards and added flexibility to the original program.  

Some of the changes to this cycle include: 

  • Expanding the number of grants to 3-12, compared to 1 grant in the first year and 2 in the second
  • The awards will average $1 million, but will range from $500,000 to $2 million. 
  • The timeline of the grant cycle was shortened from 48 to 36 months

Some of the parameters staying the same:

  • Prioritizing high enrollment classes
  • An emphasis on technology based solutions
  • A focus on bringing open textbooks up to scale
  • A preference for institutions to collaborate, or form consortia, to manage the creation and dissemination of open educational resources

Read more, and find the application on the U.S. Department of Education’s website. We encourage interested applicants to contact PIRG’s affordable textbooks director Cailyn Nagle at [email protected] for advising and feedback on this exciting opportunity.