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Open Educational Resources and Z-Degrees


Dr. Bob Cummings

October 16, 2018- Dr. Robert “Bob” Cummings led a discussion about Open Educational Resources and their initiative “Z-Degree.”

Open Educational Resources, or OER, are openly licensed textbooks, lesson plans, videos, and other course materials written by subject matter experts. Because they are openly licensed, these materials can retained, revised, reused, remixed, and redistributed by educators for the purpose of using them as replacements for or supplements to textbooks produced by for-profit publishers.

“Higher education is expensive and difficult to access,” said Cummings, an Executive Director of Academic Innovation and Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric. “Textbooks are part of the cost barrier and OER can help us to produce those cost barriers.”

As part of his presentation, Dr. Cummings spoke of the Z-Degree initiative in the state of Mississippi, which is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Z-degree refers to a designation of ‘Z’ printed alongside courses in the course catalog that use OER. Students know that Z-Degree courses have low or no cost course materials. Z-Degree grants to replace high cost textbooks with OER are available to the faculty of Mississippi public universities and community colleges. 

“We use Z-Degree to build off courses that use OER and have, in many cases, no textbook costs,” Cummings said. “We then link together those courses so that we can build entire degrees that might have low or no textbook costs.”

To date, 2- and 4- year institutions across the state have saved students over $7 million in textbook costs through the Z-Degree program.