In August 2015, a rumor began circulating on social media that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates had “made a website” that provides free textbooks to college students. While the general idea behind the rumor — that Bill and Melinda Gates are involved with a project that aims to provide affordable textbooks to students — is accurate, many of the details are misleading.
Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t simply start a web site to give away free textbooks to every college student for any college course. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with several other foundations, fund a nonprofit organization based at Rice University called OpenStax that aims to provide easier access to educational resources for students.
The nonprofit partners with various universities in order to “produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and low-cost in print” for certain courses:
OpenStax’s partnership program is designed to provide free consultation for schools wanting to increase the use of OER [Open Educational Resource] on campus and to build a community of institutions dedicated to lowering the cost of course materials using OER. Selected institutions were required to demonstrate their commitment to using OER to drive student success and graduation rates.
“We’ve seen significant demand for this program,” said Nicole Finkbeiner, associate director for institutional relations at OpenStax. “Each partner school has demonstrated a desire to replace costly textbooks with as many open educational resources, including OpenStax textbooks, as possible. We’re thrilled to offer these institutions the support they need to make college more accessible and affordable for their students.”
OpenStax uses philanthropic grants to produce high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free online and low-cost in print. It launched in 2012 with the goal of publishing free textbooks for the nation’s 25 most-attended college courses and is on track to meet its goal of saving students $500 million by 2020.
OpenStax’s goal is to create open license college textbooks that will be adopted by teachers and universities. College students enrolled in a course at a university that is using OpenStax can then make use of free digital editions of these textbooks (or print versions sold at low cost). However, this option is not available to all students at every college, for every academic course.
Dani Nicholson, the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at OpenStax, noted that all students (and non-students) can make use of OpenStax books to supplement their education.