This policy provides guidelines for how credit hours are counted in Earlham courses.

Federal policy statement

The Code of Federal Regulations (34 CFR 600.2), states:

“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 15 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.”

Earlham College academic credit definition

In accordance with the above federal policy, Earlham expects that for each academic credit of a course, a student shall work (a minimum of) 37.5 hours = 2,250 minutes over a period of 15 weeks. (Note that 37.5 hours is equivalent to 45 hours, with a 10 minute break each hour. That is, 50 minutes x 45 = 2,250 minutes.This assumes 14 weeks of instruction plus one week of exams. As discussed below, some courses at Earlham are taught over different numbers of weeks. In such cases, the number of minutes per week is adjusted accordingly from the 15 week definition. The total number of work-hours/minutes for courses of various credits is summarized below.

1 2 3 4 5
Total hours 37.5 75.0 112.5 150.0 187.5
Total minutes 2,250 4,500 6,750 9,000 11,250

Table 1: Total hours/minutes per course

The number of credits assigned to each course will be published in the college catalog and in curriculum materials. The College’s electronic registration system will also reflect the approved credit hour assignments.


Expectations and guidelines for structuring courses

Weekly workloads

Courses can be taught over different numbers of weeks. Dividing the number of total minutes by the number of weeks gives the number of expected minutes of work per week for each academic credit of a course:

Minutes-per-week = 2,250 x (Number of Academic Credits) / (Number of Weeks)

For common numbers of weeks, the expectations are given in Table 2.

1 2 3 4 5
Weeks 3 750 1,500 2,250 N/A N/A
7 321 643 964 1,286 1,607
10 225 450 675 900 1,125
15 150 300 450 600 750

Table 2: Minutes/week

Note: It is expected that no course should require a student to work more than 2,250 minutes per week.

Course structures

There are many ways for faculty to divide up the time a student will spend earning each academic credit in a course, and for different disciplines, different structures may be preferred. In keeping with the liberal arts tradition, most Earlham courses are taught in person. In certain circumstances, however, non-traditional formats may be used, including online instruction. Below are guidelines for how to divide up student work time along with expectations for what should be included in syllabi.

Courses that meet the seat-time standard

According to the seat-time standard, also known as the Carnegie Unit standard (Note that the standard assumes 100-150 minutes of student work outside of class for every 50 minutes spent in class. This document discusses the minimum, 100 minutes, recognizing that students could be expected to work more.), for each academic credit in a course, a student will divide their time in a 1:2 ratio, with each minute spent in class accompanied by two out-of-class minutes of student work. Splitting Table 2 according to the 1:2 ratio, the number of expected minutes per week in each context (in- or out-of-class) can be found, as shown below in Table 3.

1 2 3 4 5
In Out In Out In Out In Out In Out
Weeks 3 250 500 500 1,000 750 1,500 N/A N/A
7 107 214 214 429 321 643 429 857 536 1,071
10 75 150 150 300 225 450 300 600 375 750
15 50 100 100 200 150 300 200 400 250 500

Table 3: Minutes/week in 1:2 in/out standard ratio

Any course that meets the seat-time standard laid out in Table 3 does not need to explicitly justify how students will spend their out-of-class time.

Courses that deviate from the seat-time standard

In certain classes, faculty may wish to deviate from the 1:2 ratio of the seat-time standard for each academic credit in a course. For instance, a 4-credit course might meet in-person for only 150 minutes during each week of a 15 week semester. In these cases, the total amount of time a student works as shown in Table 2 must still be met. The given example (of a 4-credit course meeting 150 minutes per week) amounts to a shift from the 1:2 ratio to (instead) a 1:3 ratio. Then, the number of expected minutes per week is shown in Table 4.

1 2 3 4 5
In Out In Out In Out In Out In Out
Weeks 3 188 563 375 1,125 563 1,688 N/A N/A
7 80 241 161 482 241 723 321 964 402 1,205
10 56 169 113 338 169 506 225 675 281 844
15 38 113 75 225 113 338 150 450 188 563

Table 4: Minutes/week in 1:3 in/out ratio

Faculty who choose to deviate from the 1:2 ratio must explicitly state (in their syllabi) how students will spend their out-of-class time.

Extra out-of-class time in such courses can be spent either (1) with additional direct faculty interactions or (2) on additional assigned work (or both). If faculty plan to assign additional work, it is highly recommended that they use a workload estimator to account for the amount of work assigned (the one from Rice University is good:

Note: For most courses faculty should not move beyond the 1:3 ratio. That is, it is assumed that 4 credit courses taught during a 15 week semester will meet in class for at least 150 minutes each week.

Option 1: Additional direct faculty interactions

Courses can make up for a lack of seat-time with additional meetings that involve direct faculty interactions. While faculty may select the type of instruction(s) most appropriate for their course, direct faculty interaction should:

  • be related directly to the objectives of the course/program
  • be measurable
  • have the direct (real-time) oversight or supervision of the faculty member teaching the course.

There are many different forms of direct faculty interactions beyond regular classroom time, including, but not limited to, the following (each of which would include real-time faculty involvement):

  • Required individual or group project advising sessions
  • Required student-faculty meetings to provide feedback on student writing or other work
  • Required laboratory work or fieldwork outside of regular classroom times
  • Required review sessions outside of regular classroom times
  • Required full-class or project-group meetings, outside of regular classroom times; this includes, but is not limited to, students enrolled in a Global Course Connections paired course
  • Required participation in field trips
  • Required public presentations outside of classroom times that are assessed by the professor, such as Presentations of Learning or participation in Epic Expo

Option 2: Additional out-of-class student work

Courses can make up for a lack of seat-time with additional out-of-class student work. Foundational out-of-class work includes appropriate reading, writing, homework, and research assignments (this includes visits to academic support units, such as the Writing Center or Numeracy Center). Studio work, practice, and other forms of creative work are also acceptable within the visual and performing arts. In addition to these kinds of work, other acceptable forms of out-of-class work include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Required attendance at outside speaker, conference, or other relevant events
  • Required library sessions outside of regular classroom times
  • Required community service or internships
  • Required recorded lectures used in “flipped classrooms”
  • Required viewing of videos or films outside of regular classroom times
  • Required posting on course management tool discussion boards and/or in interactive, social reading tools like Perusall
  • Required attendance at departmental or college-wide colloquia
  • Required attendance at concerts, theater performances, or arts shows

Lab and studio courses

Many courses have lab or studio time that accompanies traditional instruction. In these cases, it is still assumed that the course will require the student to work the number of minutes each week laid out in Table 2. For example, a 4 credit science course often divides in-class time into 150 minutes of lecture and 150 minutes of lab, leaving 300 minutes for out-of-class work. Another example is a 15 week, 4 credit studio art class that meets twice a week for 150 minutes each. These examples are shown in Table 5.

4 credits, 1 lab 4 credits, 2 studio sessions
Lecture Lab Out Studio Out
150 150 300 300 300

Table 5: Lab/Studio courses, minutes/week

Courses taught in non-traditional formats

Courses taught in non-traditional formats (such as totally online or hybrid) must clearly define the model of faculty contact time and student workload used in order to justify the credit earned, in accordance with the expectation of 2,250 minutes of work for each credit awarded. All such courses and programs must be approved by the Curricular Policy Committee and the relevant programs.

Courses without in-class meetings

Courses that do not have in-class meeting times, such as internships, independent studies, individual or student-faculty collaborative research projects are required to justify that students work a minimum of 45 hours for each credit hour earned.

Review process

Review of existing courses

Prior to the start of each semester, the Registrar’s office will review the class schedules to ensure that all classes are scheduled for the minimum number of minutes corresponding to the credits assigned.

Additionally, existing courses will be evaluated for adherence to the federal credit hour regulation during routine program evaluations by the Committee for Accreditation and Assessment.

Earlham’s Principles of Respect for Persons & Integrity enjoin us to place trust in one another. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we trust that our faculty are implementing their courses as described in syllabi, unit plans/schedules, and course proposals. When questions are raised about whether this is the case (through student complaint, colleague observation, or standard review), the Provost or Associate Academic Dean may review the instructor’s courses for adherence to the credit policy. This may involve review of submitted student work, class observation, interviews with students, interview with the instructor, or other methods.

Review of new courses

The Curricular Policy Committee will verify that newly proposed courses meet the standards of the credit hour policy.

Review of this policy

This credit hour policy itself will be reviewed annually by the Curricular Policy Committee (CPC). Any changes or updates will be communicated across the institution.

Policy specifications

Last revision: 11/29/2023
Responsible office: Academic Affairs
Approved by: Faculty Meeting
Approval date: 11/29/2023
Effective date: 11/29/2023
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