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ED Grant Allows UC Davis to Lead Expansion of Open Textbooks

A $4.9 million grant will enable the University of California, Davis and a consortium of other institutions to build out a set of open textbooks intended for chemistry and career and technical education (CTE) courses. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education awarded the four-year grant as part of an open textbooks pilot program, which was funded by Congress as part of the 2018 omnibus spending bill. An open textbook is one that resides in the public domain or has been released under a license that allows for its free use, reuse, modification and sharing.

During the announcement, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described the program as "an important step toward reducing barriers, expanding access and increasing choice for students who want to attend college or learn a trade," noting that the cost of textbooks "has almost doubled in the past 10 years."

According to the program's Federal Register notice, the expense of college textbooks has increased by 88 percent between 2006 and 2016, compared to an overall increase of 63 percent for tuition and fees. For the 2016-2017 academic year, the notice stated, the average budget for books and supplies was $1,263 for students attending four-year institutions and $1,458 for students attending two-year schools.


With the grant funding, UC Davis will be expanding LibreTexts. This nonprofit, open textbook service evolved out of a project to produce an open chemistry textbook, introduced about a decade ago by Delmar Larsen, an associate professor of chemistry. Larsen created "ChemWiki" because he considered conventional textbooks too expensive, according to the university. Eventually, he added additional sites on other subjects, and now LibreTexts supplies the curriculum for 154 courses.

It works by offering a series of linked online libraries that replace conventional textbooks and course materials. Students access materials for free, and instructors assemble course materials customized for their classes. The source material comes from existing content contributed by instructors and new content created and edited specifically for the project.

Chemistry will continue to be a priority within the expansion. The consortium hopes to develop a "zero textbook cost" option that meets American Chemical Society certified curriculum standards for a bachelor's degree. Simultaneously, the project will expand the LibreTexts libraries in physics, math, biology, statistics, psychology and neuroscience.

Also, a new "trade" library within LibreTexts will be dedicated to CTE fields, of particular importance to community colleges.

"With our track record of developing and disseminating high-quality, open textbooks in partnership with institutions of higher education across the country, the LibreTexts project is ideally positioned to maximize the impact of this investment in college affordability," said Larsen, who will serve as project director, in a statement. "We are honored to accept this grant to exponentially grow our efforts for the benefit of millions of students across America."

The project team that will be funded by the proposal includes a broad national coalition of schools spanning more than a dozen states, including two large community college districts in California.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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