$2 billion that could change online education

The federal government could expand the open education model made popular by MIT.

It wasn’t the $12 billion in community college funding that officials hoped for in 2010, but a $2 billion federal grant program unveiled in January could encourage two-year schools to develop open education material that would be freely available online.

Officials from the federal departments of Education (ED) and Labor introduced the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program on Jan. 20, inviting community colleges—and other two-year degree-granting institutions—to apply for up to $5 million per institution, or up to $20 million to applicants who apply for funds in a consortium of schools.

ED will dole out about $500 million in 2011, and $2 billion will be distributed in the next four years overall, according to the announcement.

The federal program is about one-sixth of what community colleges were hoping for under the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), a $12 billion program introduced by President Obama that would have constituted the largest-ever investment in two-year college funding.

Getting the AGI through Congress proved untenable, so the $2 billion jobs-training package was included in the federal health care bill. Advocates of open education resources said the reduced amount could be a critical step toward mainstreaming openly available college courses on the web.

Beth Noveck, a professor at New York Law School and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative, said in a statement that the grant initiative is a “historic step forward for open education.”

In a Jan. 20 blog post, Noveck said that under the terms of the grant program, if a community college uses federal funds to make an educational video game, “everyone will have the benefit of that knowledge,” and “anyone can translate it into Spanish or Russian or use it as the basis to create a new game.”

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