Delmar Larsen
Delmar Larsen

Free Textbooks Project Gets $4.9 Million Grant

A library of free and open-source educational resources for college courses will expand thanks to a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the LibreTexts Project, led by the University of California, Davis.

LibreTexts, a national consortium including universities and community colleges across the country, produces a series of linked online libraries that replace conventional textbooks and course materials. Students can access materials for free; instructors can assemble course materials tailored to the needs of their class.

The project began ten years ago when chemistry professor Delmar Larsen, the leader of the project, created “ChemWiki,” an online chemistry textbook, because he thought conventional textbooks were too expensive. ChemWiki grew into one of the most-visited educational sites on the internet and Larsen added sites on other disciplines. LibreTexts now includes almost 70,000 pages on twelve college level disciplines, including biology, business, history and more. 

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. Larsen estimates the site has saved students at least $30 million in textbook costs to date.

The source material for LibreTexts is drawn from existing material contributed by faculty, and new material created and edited specifically for the project. 

A zero-textbook cost option for chemistry

The new grant will expand the existing LibreTexts project, focusing especially on chemistry, a core subject for other STEM fields. One goal is to create a zero-textbook-cost option for the American Chemical Society-approved curriculum for a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. 

The expanded project will also include a new “trades” library for career and technical education, aimed at community colleges. 

In addition to UC Davis, the LibreTexts consortium includes the University of Michigan, the University of Kansas, DePauw University, the University of Minnesota Rochester, the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, Mendocino College, Monroe Community College, and South Tahoe Community College. 

Other institutions directly involved in the project are the California State University system through its Office of the Chancellor, the University of Washington, the University of Arkansas Little Rock, Hope College, St. Mary’s College, Prince George’s Community College, Contra Costa Community College District and the Los Rios Community College District.

Andy Fell, UC Davis News and Media Relations

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