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Definition of a Credit Hour and Program Length

Office of Origin: Instruction
Date Adopted: 09-25-12
Date Reviewed:
Last Date Modified & Approved:

Federal regulations require institutions to define a credit hour and provide a rationale for the methods used to assign credit hours to courses that is consistent with §600.2 and 600.24 of the Department of Education Federal Code under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended.

The federal definition of a credit hour is: 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-ofclass 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.

Further, this Federal code also requires regional accrediting agencies to monitor compliance by assuring through their review practices that:

(1) Institutions have a formal policy in place that defines the credit hour and its application to all courses and programs provided by the institution;

(2) The institution periodically reviews the application of its policy to assure that credit hour assignments are accurate and reliable; and

(3) Any variances in the assignment of credit hours conform to commonly accepted practices in higher education.

As a basic unit of student federal aid eligibility, credit hour allocations must accurately represent the level of instruction, academic rigor, and time requirements for a course taken at an institution. Credit hours, to the public at large, are also frequently viewed as a proxy for the amount of student learning that has taken place. Finally, credit hours are also used to define the length of a program of study.

Thus, this policy is intended to satisfy both the Federal and the Higher Learning Commission’s mandate that Lake Michigan College has institutionally defined a credit hour, provided a rationale for allocating credit hours by course and by degree level, and that these explanations reflect a reasonable approximation of the minimum amount of student work, based on the traditional Carnegie unit, that is in accordance with commonly accepted practices in higher education.

Lake Michigan College’s Definition of a Credit Hour
A credit hour is the unit of measurement used to indicate the amount of instructional and learning time required to achieve the learning goals of a college-level course. The credit hour at LMC is based on the traditional 50-minute Carnegie instructional hour and adjusted to accommodate a 14-week (instead of a traditional 15-week) semester. In LMC’s 14-week semester, 60 minutes of instruction is provided for each assigned credit hour. Credit values are determined by the College Curriculum Council and approximate the amount of instructional time needed to address all required learning objectives documented on the official course outline approved by the Council. In addition, students are expected to engage in an additional two hours of academic work for every credit hour of instruction provided.

Thus, for example, under the Carnegie 50-minute hour, a 1-credit hour course should have approximately 12.5 hours of instructor-led activities in a 15-week semester. LMC’s 14-week semester uses a 60-minute hour. Therefore, a one-credit course has 14 hours of instructor-led activities, which is one and a half hours above the accepted standard for a semester. When added to the 2 hours per week (or 28 hours in a 14-week semester) that students are expected to engage in research, assignments, and other independent learning activities beyond participation in the instructor-led activities, students are expected to allocate a minimum of 42 hours per term to complete the work contained in a one-credit course at Lake Michigan College. These standards apply to all traditional classroom, hybrid, and distance learning courses.

Traditional classroom-based instruction, hybrid courses, and distance education courses are based on a 1:1 ratio, where each hour of credit granted is matched by the number of hours of instructor-led activities. In an online environment, the use of active teaching practices such as providing and moderating content-directed discussion boards or other interactive communication exchanges may be viewed as an instructor-led activity. Simply logging in to a course site, however, does not satisfy the teaching/learning requirement for online learning for either the student or the faculty member. Other types of instructional delivery options (e.g., studios, laboratories, clinicals, apprenticeships, cooperative education courses, internships, and practica) are assigned credit hours based on a ratio contact hours to credit hours. The methods for assigning credit values for these types of courses are approved and reviewed annually by the College Curriculum Council and are documented in the course syllabus and the College’s Master Course Inventory.

Program Length

As noted in the Background section of this policy statement, credit hours are also used to convey the length of a program of study. Associate degrees at Lake Michigan College must have a minimum of 60 credit hours. Program Certificate programs must have a minimum of either 600 clock hours or 16 semester hours. A set of courses or a course that leads to a marketable skill that is comprised of less than 15 credits, may be awarded a Skills Certificate, but these certificate programs are not eligible to apply for Federal financial aid.