FAQ for Z-degree, Zero Cost Books, OER, etc. at HCC


Open Educational Resources (OER): Teaching, learning, and research resources that are in the public domain or released with intellectual property licenses that facilitate the free use, adaptation, and distribution of resources.

Open Access: Journal articles and academic publications that are available without fee or affiliation.

Zero Cost Books: Courses that require only the use of OER, Open Access, and other free resources so that students pay no additional cost for their instructional materials.

Z-Degree: Degree pathways designed to provide a baseline opportunity for all HCC students to take advantage of ZCB courses. HCC recommends a structured schedule of classes on campus during peak enrollment times in the following areas and locations:

  • AA, Business at Central campus and Online
  • AA, Multi-disciplinary Studies at Central campus and Online
  • Associate in Science at Central campus and Online
  • Core Curriculum Certificate at most major campus locations



Course Tagging
Department chairs/Program Chairs should refer to the new Bulk Tagging Process for Inclusive Access (SFD), Zero Cost Books (ZCB), and Low Cost Books (LCB). It is no longer necessary to tag courses in multiple locations under “Maintain Class Schedule.” There is no need to use the Z-Degree (ZDG) course tag.

Some additional guidelines:

  • Please attempt to tag courses prior to registration so that students can search for courses that offer textbook savings.
  • If an SFD course is tagged after students have registered, the chair must alert the IA Coordinator, Dr. Donald Parker (Inclusive.Access@hccs.edu). These students will have to be charged the course fee manually.
  • Any course may be tagged ZCB or LCB after students have enrolled – and even after the start date! These tags are important for assessment and tracking purposes.
  • Please try to avoid removing course tags once students have registered for the course. If this cannot be avoided, please contact the affected students.


Textbook approval
All textbooks, including OER textbooks, must be approved for adoption by the program committee. Programs should follow normal evaluation procedures when considering approval of OER. However, OER do not – as a matter of Instructional Materials guidelines – compete against commercial textbooks. A program is permitted to adopt an unlimited number of OER in addition to two commercial textbooks.

Reporting OER Adoptions
Program Coordinators should report approved OER textbooks to the AVC of Curriculum and Learning Initiatives as part of the List of Approved Textbooks as required by the Instructional Materials guidelines.

Department Chairs/Program Chairs must submit the list of courses and instructors using OER textbooks, or free, online instructional materials to the OER Coordinator, Dr. James Ross-Nazzal (james.rossnazzal@hccs.edu). These will be communicated with the bookstore manager for posting on the bookstore website.

All HCC faculty are encouraged to participate in OER training. There is an OER training certificate available upon the completion of a series of required courses. Full-time faculty will receive a $300 stipend upon completion of the training. Some departments have developed policies requiring OER training for certain groups of faculty who wish to teach in the Z-Degree. Faculty should consult with their chairs about such policies.


Are OER always free?

No. OER are not necessarily free. OER refers to openly licensed and public domain teaching and learning materials. So, the content of the OER is legally free for others to use, share, and repurpose. But for-profit companies may use OER content in a service or software application for which they charge a fee. This is particularly the case with OER courseware, where the openly licensed content is embedded in a software platform designed to help students learn and help faculty teach. If faculty choose to use OER courseware, then the courseware may not be free.

Up to this point, HCC has subsidized the access fees for students enrolled in classes with OER courseware for the Z-Degree. That policy will continue as long as there are funds to support it.


Can a course be a Zero Cost Books if there is a charge for printing the textbook?

Yes. Printing services cost money, but printing instructional materials is not required. So, the course does not require students to pay for access to their instructional materials. Instructors should investigate the best available prices for printing OER course materials. The University Copy Center will provide relatively inexpensive bound copies of any PDF provided to them. Faculty are encouraged to work with the OER Coordinator (james.rossnazzal@hccs.edu) to negotiate terms for printing OER.


The Kinder Foundation funding has ended, what will happen to the Z-Degree?

HCC’s Z-Degree was launched as a pilot program with funding from the Kinder Foundation. This funding was disbursed over three years, from March 2017 through March 2019. Much of the grant funding has gone to support subsidizing OER courseware for students in the Z-Degree. As that funding is used up, HCC is exploring many other options. The Z-Degree and OER Program will not end after funding is over. There are rolling budget allocations for the OER Program that will go forward. It is anticipated that this program will continue to be supported and grow after the grant money has been spent.


Can an OER courseware be paid through Inclusive Access course fees?

At this time, Barnes and Noble only provides Inclusive Access billing support for OER offered through Cengage OpenNow, Lumen Learning, PanOpen, Cog Books and the Barnes & Noble College Plus (formerly LoudCloud) platform. These providers offer a variety of OER titles. HCC is working with Barnes and Noble to offer Inclusive Access agreements with the other OER courseware providers.