Today, Congress set aside $5 million to renew the Open Textbook Pilot program for FY19, which gives grants to colleges and universities to promote adoption of free and open textbooks by professors. The program could save students up to $50 million.
“Students across the country are breathing a sigh of relief. Shelling out hundreds of dollars each semester to buy textbooks and online materials adds up,” said Kaitlyn Vitez, Higher Education campaign director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “We’re glad to see bipartisan agreement that college textbooks need to be more affordable and accessible.”
Students spend about $3 billion in federal financial aid a year on textbooks and access codes, according to analysis by U.S. PIRG. Access codes hide homework and other materials online behind an expiring paywall. Because of these skyrocketing costs, 65 percent of students have skipped buying textbooks at some point in their college careers. Overall, students have taken on more than $1.5 trillion in debt, making measures such as open textbook programs more important than ever.
Alarmed by these costs, U.S. PIRG joined more than 70 student leaders across the country and sent a letter to Congress last week, urging legislators to renew the Open Textbook Pilot program.
The renewed federal funding will promote open textbooks, which are available to students for free online. Federal grants will go to individual institutions or consortia, to support programming on campus and to assist faculty in identifying and adopting open textbooks. Furthermore, the renewal of the pilot expands eligibility and offers better support to applying institutions so that they can create stronger, more effective open textbook programs. Winners of the first round of grants are expected to be announced as soon as this week.
Senator Dick Durbin (IL) has authored the Affordable College Textbook Act, which would make this program permanent.