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Credit Hour Definition and Program Length

LMC Revised Date

Office of Origin: Academic Affairs
Date Adopted: 09-25-12
Date Reviewed: 01-15-18
Last Date Modified & Approved: 05-30-2018


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:

An amount of work represented in intended student 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. 

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 are frequently viewed as a proxy for the amount of student learning that has taken place and are also used to define the length of a program of study.

This policy is intended to help ensure academic rigor and satisfy both Federal and Higher Learning Commission compliance requirements to institutionally define a credit hour, provide a rationale for allocating credit hours by course and by degree level, and provide a reasonable approximation of the minimum amount of student work expected, based on the traditional Carnegie unit, 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 student learning outcomes of a college-level course. The credit hour at LMC is based on a 14-week instructional semester where 60 minutes of direct instruction is provided each week for each assigned credit hour for a minimum of 14 hours of instructor-led activities per credit hour. Contact hours per week are adjusted for semesters of varying length (e.g., accelerated and shorter summer sessions) to ensure that the minimum of 14 hours of instructional time per credit hour is met. 

Credit values are determined by the College Curriculum Committee (CCC) to align with the documented direct instructional time needed to address all required student learning outcomes on the official Course Summary and/or syllabus approved by the CCC. In addition, students are expected to engage in a minimum of two hours of independent learning activities (e.g., reading, research, completing assignments, studying) for every credit hour of direct instruction provided. These standards apply to all credit courses, wherever and however they are delivered.

One (1) hour of credit is granted for each hour of direct instructional time in face-to-face, hybrid, and distance education courses (1:1 contact hour to credit hour ratio). In an online environment, direct instructional time can constitute a variety of activities with a pedagogical purpose that is planned, facilitated, and documented by the faculty member. Simply logging in to a course site does not satisfy the teaching/learning requirement for online learning for either the student or the faculty member. See Appendix A for more information about direct instructional time in an online teaching and learning environment. 

Other methods of instructional delivery (e.g., clinicals, co-op, internships, lab, studio) are assigned credit hours based on a contact hour to credit hour ratio as follows:

Instructional Delivery Method Contact Hour to Credit Hour Ratio
Lab or Studio 2:1
Clinical 3:1
Integrated Lecture/Lab or Studio 2:1 or 3:1 depending on the discipline and course level
Co-op, Internship 2:1 or 3:1 depending on discipline, does not include hours in the workplace



For example, two contact hours of lab instruction are equal to one credit hour and three contact hours of clinical instruction are equal to one credit hour. Assigned credit values for courses are reviewed and approved by the College Curriculum Committee. 

Program Length
Credit hours are also used to convey the length of a program of study. At Lake Michigan College, baccalaureate programs require a minimum of 120 credits hours. Associate degrees require a minimum of 60 credit hours. Certificate programs must be at least 16 credit hours to be eligible for submission for Federal financial aid approval under Gainful Employment regulations. Certificates can be comprised of less than 16 credits, but they must lead to a marketable skill and are not eligible for Federal financial aid. All academic programs and certificates must be approved by the College Curriculum Committee and the Board of Trustees. 

Responsibility: Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs


Appendix A

Direct instructional time, also known as “in-class time” or “seat time,” is a straight-forward calculation for face-to-face instructional time; it is the amount of time the faculty member is personally interacting with students within the classroom or on-campus lab setting.  It is not so straight forward when it comes to online and hybrid delivery modalities.  In these cases, direct instructional time can constitute a variety of activities with a pedagogical purpose that is planned, facilitated, and documented by the faculty member.  The table below provides an example of direct instructional activities and sample direct instructional times in a three (3) credit hour online class.  

Instructional Activity Description Average hours per occurrence Number of occurrences Total hours
Case Study  Faculty-directed activity requiring in-depth application, synthesis, evaluation related to student learning outcomes for the course. Includes faculty feedback and assessment. 1 2 2
Chat room Faculty-directed synchronous activity documented in the syllabus. 0.5 14 7
Meetings Phone meetings, in-person or online meetings between faculty member and student that must be planned and documented in the syllabus. 0.5 14 7
Discussion board Faculty-directed threaded discussions that relate to student learning outcomes for the course. Thoughtful analysis of course material and readings, as well as reflective and insightful comments of the posts of others. 1 10 10
Group project Faculty-directed activity that targets specific student learning outcomes; Students work together and prepare project with faculty guidance.  1 2 2
Hands-on simulated, active learning Faculty-directed activity 0.5 8 4
Lecture (online, synchronous/asynchronous) Audio or video lecture presentation by faculty that is related to student learning outcomes for the course. 1 8 8
Multimedia Faculty-directed use of video, podcasts, music etc., including written text 1 1 1
Orientation to syllabus , course guide,  responsibilities, expectations, and/or policies Faculty-directed overview of the course syllabus, etc. at the beginning of the semester 0.5 1 0.5
Orientation to technology Orientation to various technologies, including LMS that is used for the course 0.5 1 0.5
Presentation Faculty-directed viewing of film or filmed speaker event related to student learning outcomes for the course. 1 1 1
Self or peer assessment of work Planned, facilitated, and monitored by faculty with a pedagogical purpose 1 1 1
Student project Faculty directed activity that targets specific student learning outcomes; Student works independently and completes project with faculty guidance. 1 1 1
Total Direct Instructional Time: 45


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