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U.S. Department of Education Awards $4.9 Million Grant to University of California, Davis to Develop Free, Open Textbooks Program

To help stem the rising cost of college textbooks, the U.S. Department of Education today announced a $4.9 million grant to the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) to lead a pilot program to develop free, open textbooks in targeted subjects.

Under the Open Textbooks Pilot Program, funded by Congress in the FY 2018 omnibus spending bill, UC Davis will head a consortium of 12 campuses that will begin by creating open textbooks focused on high-enrollment courses like chemistry, as well as career-technical education (CTE) fields. Technical textbooks are among the more expensive books that students must purchase, as they often must be updated frequently to keep pace with changing technologies.

“The cost of college textbooks has almost doubled in the past 10 years,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  “This program is an important step toward reducing barriers, expanding access and increasing choice for students who want to attend college or learn a trade. I commend Senators Durbin, King, and Smith, as well as Representatives Polis and Sinema for theircommitment to getting this pilot program passed through Congress, and I look forward to working together to make textbooks more easily accessible for students, professors and the public.”

According to the program’s July 30 Federal Register notice, the cost of college textbooks jumped 88 percent between 2006 and 2016. In the 2016-17 academic year, the average college student budget for books and supplies had risen to $1,263 for students at four-year institutions and $1,458 at two–year schools.

Open textbooks are defined as textbooks that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification and sharing with others.

UC Davis plans to launch its efforts by expanding the existing LibreTexts open textbook service. LibreTexts is a multi-institution venture aimed at developing the next generation of open-access texts to improve postsecondary education at all levels of higher learning.

“Our effort will build on the best practices that we established over the past decade in the development of the LibreTexts,” UC Davis said in its application. “These are the same efforts that make LibreTexts the largest, highest-ranked and most-visited open educational resource (OER). To this end, we propose to expand the LibreTexts into an expansive living library of content that can be customized to faculty needs.”

The high-enrollment field of chemistry will be a priority in the expansion of the LibreText library where open textbooks will be developed “to enable a zero textbook cost (ZTC) option for an American Chemical Society, ACS-certified curriculum for a bachelor’s degree,” according to the grant application.

In addition, a new “trade” library will be dedicated to career and technical education fields. 

Besides UC Davis, the consortium with access to the pilot program text will include: the University of Arkansas, Little Rock (AR), Saint Mary's College (IN), Prince George Community College (MD), Hope College (MI), American River College (CA), Contra Costa College (CA), Cosumnes River College (CA), Diablo Valley College (CA), Folsom Lake College (CA), Los Medanos College (CA) and Sacramento City College (CA).  The California State University system is also a partner.