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Credit Hour Definition and Program Length (Policy)

Office of Origin: Academic Affairs
Responsibility: Provost & VP of Academic Affairs, VP of Student Affairs
Original Date Adopted: 9-25-12
Date Reviewed: 1-15-18, 5-16-23
Last Date Board Approved: 5-30-18, 5-16-23

Per federal regulations, this policy defines Lake Michigan College’s (LMC or the College) credit hour and provides the rational used to assign credit hours to courses.  Further, this policy helps ensure academic rigor and satisfies both Federal and Higher Learning Commission (HLC) compliance requirements to institutionally define a credit hour, provide 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.
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.
The 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 credit-bearing course, regardless of modality. A credit hour is based on the number of weeks that are set by the institution for the term.  An academic Fall and Spring term combined must be a minimum of 30 (thirty) weeks. For all programs that are less than an associate degree, courses within the program must be stackable.
Contact hours are assigned based on the number of hours per week the student receives instruction and are converted to credit hours based upon the chart below.
The same number of credit hours are earned in an accelerated class, but the contact hours per week are adjusted for parts of term 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 faculty and approved 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 syllabus. 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-bearing 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, including asynchronous and synchronous delivery (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. 

Program Length
Credit hours are also used to convey the length of a program of study. Associate degrees require a minimum of 60 credit hours and certificates are any program which contains less than 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. The College Curriculum Committee and the Board of Trustees must approve all academic degrees and certificates; some programs may also require HLC and Department of Education approval.


§600.2 and 600.24 of the Department of Education Federal Code under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended

Federal Compliance Policy Number FDCR.A.10.020

Appendix A

Direct instructional time, also known as “in-class time” or “seat time,” is a calculation of the amount of time the faculty member is personally interacting with the students in the classroom, lab, studio, or clinical setting. In a remote or online teaching and learning environment, 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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