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Credit Hour Guidance

  • Definition of Credit Hour:
    • Credit or credit hour: A unit of measure representing the equivalent of an hour (50 minutes) of instruction per week over the entire term. It is applied toward the total number of credit hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree, diploma, certificate, or other award. Source: IPEDS
    • Credit hours are used by most U.S. higher education institutions to calculate, record, and interpret the amount of earned academic or training credits that students accumulate en route to earning certifications, diplomas, degrees, and other qualifications. Institutions typically use credit hours to record all types of academic work including independent research and not just taught courses. Source: USNEI 
  • Some U.S. higher education institutions use other approaches to calculate, record, and interpret the amount of academic or training work that students complete en route to earning a degree or other award. These approaches may be acceptable if the institution can justify them and demonstrate compliance with applicable Commission and government policies, regulations, and requirements.
  • Semester credit hour or semester hour:  A semester hour must include at least 30 clock hours of instruction. Source: 34 CFR 668.8  (MSCHE Degrees and Credits)
  • The actual amount of academic work that goes into a single semester credit hour is often calculated as follows:  Source: USNEI
    • One lecture, seminar, or discussion credit hour represents 1 hour per week of scheduled class/seminar time and 2 hours of student preparation time. Most lecture and seminar courses are awarded 3 credit hours. Over an entire semester, this formula represents at least 45 hours of class time and 90 hours of student preparation.
    • One laboratory credit hour represents 1 hour per week of lecture or discussion time plus 1-2 hours per week of scheduled supervised or independent laboratory work, and 2 hours of student preparation time. Most laboratory courses are awarded up to 4 credit hours. For a laboratory course earning 3 credit hours, this formula represents at least 45 hours of class time, between 45 and 90 hours of laboratory time, and 90 hours of student preparation per semester.
    • One practice credit hour (supervised clinical rounds, visual or performing art studio, supervised student teaching, field work, etc.) represents 3-4 hours per week of supervised and/or independent practice. This in turn represents between 45 and 60 hours of work per semester. Blocks of 3 practice credit hours, which equate to a studio or practice course, represent between 135 and 180 total hours of academic work per semester.
    • Internship or apprenticeship credit hours are determined by negotiation between the supervising faculty and the work supervisor at the cooperating site, both of whom must judge and certify different aspects of the student’s work. The credit formula is similar to that for practice credit.
    • Quarter credit hour or quarter hour:  Quarter credit hours represent proportionately less work than semester hours due to the shorter terms, about two-thirds of a semester credit hour. Source: USNEI
    • A quarter hour must include at least 20 hours of instruction. Source: 34 CFR 668.8
    • Independent study credit hour:  One independent study (including thesis or dissertation research) hour is calculated similarly to practice credit hours (see “Semester credit hour” above). Source: USNEI
    • For the purposes of direct assessment programs (see the section below on “Federal Regulations Regarding Competency-Based Programs”), independent study occurs when a student follows a course of study with predefined objectives but works with a faculty member to decide how the student is going to meet those objectives. The student and faculty member agree on what the student will do (e.g., required readings, research, and work products), how the student’s work will be evaluated, and on what the relative timeframe for completion of the work will be. The student must interact with the faculty member on a regular and substantive basis to assure progress within the course or program. Source: 34 CFR 668.10
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