Department of Education Seeks Public Comment on the Open Textbook Pilot Program

Designing Postsecondary Education that Reduces Cost and Increases Access for all Students

Office of Ed Tech
4 min readMar 31, 2020
Stack of books on a table
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

In the 2017–2018 academic year, the average college student budget for books and supplies was $1,265 for those attending four-year institutions and $1,471 for those attending two-year institutions. Last fall, as our team participated in the 2019 Open Education Conference, we learned from students, instructors, technology developers, administrators, and policymakers about the efforts underway across the country and around the world to reduce this burden on students and make engaging educational opportunities available without restriction to all students. We learned about innovative micro-grant projects, instructor professional development opportunities, technology-supported learning experiences, and institutional and local policy changes. We also heard from attendees about the pressing need to continue these efforts, especially as both the cost and need for postsecondary education are increasing.

In FY 2018 and FY 2019, Congress provided funding for an Open Textbook Pilot Program to address the issue of textbook cost. Over these last two years, the Department of Education has made three awards totaling approximately $10 million to consortia of institutions of higher education and other organizations. These grants support the creation of new openly licensed educational resources or expanding the use of existing open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing here about the progress of these projects and opportunities to connect with these ongoing efforts.

For the next 30 days (through April 30, 2020) the Department is inviting the public to provide comments on the design of the FY 2020 Open Textbook Pilot Program. This program will make approximately $6 million available to promote student success, especially for non-traditional students, adult learners, and students from traditionally underserved populations, by supporting the development and expanded use of open textbooks. We are asking for feedback to assist us in developing a grant competition that will result in efforts across the country that will reduce potential costs and increase potential benefits of open textbooks, while preserving the effective and efficient program administration.

In response to this Notice of Proposed Priorities (NPP), we are asking the broad community of students, instructors, administrators, policymakers, technology and content developers, and the general public share with us their feedback on our NPP based on their experiences with open textbooks. For example, if you have participated in efforts to increase postsecondary student success through the use of open textbooks, please submit public comments and share your experiences, including any information about these efforts, lessons learned, research findings, or evidence of success that are relevant to this grant competition and the items above.

Specifically, we welcome your insights for how we might increase the impact of this upcoming investment on the 17 items listed below, including a few directed questions:

Topics — we are requesting specific feedback in four areas proposed program structure — (1) award size; (2) matching contributions; (3) high-enrollment; and (4) open textbook.

Priorities — we are requesting feedback on the four proposed priorities for this and future competitions — (1) improving collaboration and dissemination; (2) addressing gaps in the open textbook marketplace and bringing solutions to scale; (3) promoting student success; and (4) using technology-based strategies for personalized learning and continuous improvement.

Requirements — we are requesting feedback on the proposed requirement for applicant eligibility (1).

Definitions and terms — we are requesting feedback on the following eight terms used in this and future grant competitions — (1) high-enrollment courses; (2) high-enrollment program; (3) in-demand industry sector; (4) in-demand occupation; (5) open textbook; (6) sector partner; (7) trade or professional association; and (8) workforce stakeholder.

Because we are requesting feedback on 17 items, including specific directed questions, we recommend that you clearly identify the item(s) or question(s) to which you are responding, so that we can give your comments appropriate consideration and response.

Details on the topics, proposed priorities, requirements, and definitions, as well as instructions on how to submit comments electronically or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery are available in the full notice:

Any additional information and questions can be directed to Stacey Slijepcevic,

We look forward to your feedback as we develop open textbook programs and practices that increase access, affordability, and opportunity for all students.

Sharon Leu is a Sr. Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education where she works on issues related to the education and work of the future. Sharon is an aspiring park ranger.



Office of Ed Tech

OET develops national edtech policy & provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education. Examples ≠ endorsement