Over a decade ago the Michelson 20MM Foundation got its start in the battle around textbook affordability. At that time our founder Dr. Gary K. Michelson learned from a group of professors at Santa Ana College, a two-year public institution in Orange County, California, that each term, several bright and qualified students failed to complete their degrees simply because they could not afford the increasingly expensive course textbooks.

After learning that a group of motivated professors were pooling their own money to create a textbook scholarship, Dr. Michelson was inspired to join the cause since he, too, had experienced financial hardships as a college student that pushed him to work up to two jobs at a time while in school. He began by contributing his own funds toward the textbook scholarship, but was committed to finding a more enduring solution to the textbook affordability crisis.

This led Dr. Michelson to join forces with other forward-thinking philanthropic organizations to tackle this problem. In 2010, he awarded a grant to OpenStax, a new nonprofit open educational resources (OER) publisher, to produce a catalog of free open textbooks for students.

Since then, our foundation’s work to promote OER and lower the cost of instructional materials for students has grown. Today we are proud to announce that we are committing $100,000 via our Michelson Spark Grant program to organizations doing important work in the space. 

Please join us in welcoming our cohort of four Michelson 20MM OER Spark Grantees and their projects:

California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI)

In recent years, CSUCI has emerged as a national leader in textbook affordability through its “OpenCI” initiative. Since launching in 2016, OpenCI has benefited more than 44,000 enrollments, saved students over $5 million dollars, and introduced the first three zero-textbook-cost undergraduate majors (aka, “Z-Majors”) in the entire CSU. Our Spark Grant builds upon this success by supporting CSUCI’s establishment of the California Alliance for Open Education (CAopenEd). CAopenEd will be a research and resource hub for faculty and administrators across all three of California’s public higher education systems. CAopenEd will offer support on how to effectively build out OER programs across the state, as well as collaborative research opportunities to develop empirically informed best practices on OER pedagogy, university policies/procedures, and statewide legislative decisions. Potential long-term plans include ZTC major certifications, faculty fellowships, award programs, digital badges, periodic white papers, and research consortiums.

Compton College

Located in Michelson 20MM’s backyard, Compton College serves a large number of students who come from backgrounds that are traditionally underserved, including 63% Latinx and 22% African American students. Moreover, 68% of students receive financial aid and many students are lacking in basic needs. The college has 56% of students experiencing food insecurity, 63% facing housing insecurity, and 19% are experiencing homelessness. All of these percentages are greater than the state averages, so it is critically important to reduce the financial burden of high textbook costs for students. Therefore, Compton College has set an audacious goal of having 85-100% of all courses and degree programs utilizing OER by fall 2035. Our grant will support building out an OER Adoption Action Plan and conducting professional development activities that will set the course for the work over the next 14 years as they seek to become an entirely OER campus by 2035. They would be the first such school in the country to achieve that goal. 

The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME)

ISKME is a previous Spark Grant awardee and longtime partner of 20MM’s work. The state of California recently agreed to provide $115 million to the community college system for the Zero-Textbook Cost (ZTC) Degree program. The ZTC program allows students to start and finish their degree programs without paying anything for costly textbooks and other instructional materials. Our grant will be utilized to develop a roadmap for high-wage, high-demand ZTC degrees for Bay Area Community Colleges. ISKME will conduct a study that identifies learning materials gaps where the absence of suitable OER prevents the 24 Bay Area community colleges from offering ZTC degrees that align to high-wage, high-demand careers in the region. Based on the data collected, a gap analysis and map of OER curricular needs will be developed that reflects regional workforce demand. The map will advance ISKME’s effort to facilitate cross-college working groups for the creation of ZTC degrees in Bay Area priority fields where students of color are underrepresented.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

SPARC is a global advocacy organization working to make research and education open and equitable by design. As a membership organization including more than 240 academic and research libraries across North America, SPARC works as a catalyst for policies and practices that advance sharing knowledge as a fundamental human right. Over the last decade, the publishing industry’s shift from physical print textbooks to subscription-based digital materials has raised growing concerns over costs and exploitation of student data. Central to the industry’s strategy has been promoting “inclusive access” programs, a model where students are billed for digital course materials through their tuition and fees, often without their explicit consent. It is easy to see how these programs benefit publishers, but SPARC has concerns about the negative impact on students. Our grant will support their efforts to equip stakeholders with awareness and educational materials about automatic textbook billing to ensure that these programs—if established—put the needs of students first.

We look forward to sharing a series of blogs spotlighting each of our new OER grantees and the inspiring work they are leading.​​

Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at www.20mm.org.