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Credit Hour Definition

Compiled 2018-08-31 | J A Glenn

Documentation updated: December 30, 2020

[1] UCA Graduate and Undergraduate Bulletins

The unit of credit at the university is the semester hour. A semester hour is defined as the credit earned for the successful completion of one hour per week in class for one semester, or a minimum of two hours per week of laboratory work for one semester. Each lecture hour suggests a minimum of two hours preparation on the part of the student.

The university determines the clock hour-credit hour relationship in other settings—for example internships, clinical rotations, practica, studio work, or asynchronous online courses—with several sources of guidance in mind: minima established by Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board policy, disciplinary or professional accreditation/licensure requirements, and commonly accepted practices in other similar educational programs at UCA and in higher education generally.

[2] Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board (AHECB) Policy

Appendix A, Section 6. Traditional Instruction (In-Class)

College and university terms vary in length, with the most typical being semester, quarter or trimester. Some institutions use a pattern of two 8-week terms per semester instead of a 15-17 week semester. Whatever the term length, time spent in the appropriate mixture of lecture, laboratory, self-paced learning, team activities, and field work must bring enrolled students to the same required levels of competence, knowledge and performance. Typically, classes have met for 750 minutes or 12.5 clock hours in a term for each semester credit hour awarded in lecture classes with proportionately more time for laboratory classes.

The minimum semester length is 15 weeks of actual class time and examinations. A minimum of fifteen (15) fifty-minute class sessions, excluding laboratories, is required to award one semester hour of credit. Institutions may have terms of other than semester length, but the amounts of credit awarded must be adjusted in proportion to the length of term. There may be exceptions regarding length of terms and amount of credit awarded for specific circumstances such as workshops, seminars, and summer terms in instances where the instructional content and activities are selected appropriately.

The amount of credit awarded for a course is based on the amount of time in class, the amount of outside preparation required, and the intensity of the educational experience.

  • A formal lecture course with extensive assigned reading or other out-of-class preparation is awarded one semester credit for a minimum of 750 minutes or 12.5 hours of classroom instruction;
  • A laboratory class with moderate out-of-class preparation is awarded one semester credit for a minimum of 1500 minutes or 25 hours of laboratory instruction; and
  • Clinical, practicum, internship, shop instruction or other self-paced learning activities involving work-related experience with little or no out-of-class preparation is awarded one semester credit for a minimum of 2250 minutes or 37.5 hours of work-related instruction.

[3] Higher Learning Commission (HLC) / U.S. Department of Education (USDE)

HLC Policy Language (FDCR.A.10.020)

An institution shall be able to equate its learning experiences with semester or quarter credit hours using practices common to institutions of higher education, to justify the lengths of its programs in comparison to similar programs found in accredited institutions of higher education, and to justify any program-specific tuition in terms of program costs, program length, and program objectives. Affiliated institutions shall notify the Commission of any significant changes in the relationships among credits, program length, and tuition.

Assignment of Credit Hours. The institution’s assignment and award of credit hours shall conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education. Those institutions seeking, or participating in, Title IV federal financial aid, shall demonstrate that they have policies determining the credit hours awarded to courses and programs in keeping with commonly-accepted practices and with the federal definition of the credit hour, as reproduced herein for reference only, and that institutions also have procedures that result in an appropriate awarding of institutional credit in conformity with the policies established by the institution.

USDE Definition (34 CFR 600.2)

Credit hour: Except as provided in 34 CFR 668.8(k) and (l), a credit hour is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than —

  1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
  2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.

Update (2020)

Recently released changes to this definition, discussed in August by the WCET Frontiers blog (https://wcetfrontiers.org/2020/08/26/newly-released-final-regulations/), do not change the essence of this definition but do recognize that flexibility is required in applying the definition in practice.

Credit hour: Except as provided in 34 CFR 668.8(k) and (l), a credit hour is an amount of student work defined by an institution, as approved by the institution’s accrediting agency or State approval agency, that is consistent with commonly accepted practice in postsecondary education and that—

  1. Reasonably approximates not less than—
    1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different period of time; or
    2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) (i) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours; and
  2. Permits an institution, in determining the amount of work associated with a credit hour, to take into account a variety of delivery methods, measurements of student work, academic calendars, disciplines, and degree levels.