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Ursinus Credit Hour Policy

Ursinus College policy on the awarding of credit hours

At Ursinus, the expected student academic load is 16 credit hours per semester, with a typical course counting for four credit hours. In accordance with common practice in higher education, as well as federal definitions of the credit hour (appended below), such a course at Ursinus, as a rigorous academic institution, expects significant out-of-class work. As a baseline for assigning credit hours to classes, the college expects a four-credit course to meet a nominal three hours per week (typically in three or two meetings per week), and to assign nine additional hours of out-of-class work (e.g. reading, writing, other homework as appropriate to the discipline, and regular review and study in preparation for class and examinations) over the period of a full 15-week semester. 

Some courses may meet more frequently, or include laboratories, studios, or other practica. Out-of-class work may be lessened in these cases, but baseline expectations of overall academic work for a four-credit course should still total about 12 hours per week including class time (or lab time, rehearsals, studio time, screenings, etc.). For example, a four-credit-hour course that meets in three one-hour lecture sessions per week and a single three-hour weekly laboratory must include an expectation of a minimum of an additional six hours of out-of-class work. As a rule of thumb, the following formula can be used to determine how much out-of-class work should be expected for a course:

(credit hours × 3) – contact hours = hours of expected out-of-class work

Courses that meet on different schedules (e.g., one long class meeting per week, or for less than a full semester) will be assigned credit hours appropriate to the prorated hours of academic effort over the full period of the course. Similar standards are applied to practica and internships. As noted above, most courses at Ursinus will demand nine hours per week of out-of-class academic work, or three out-of-class hours per in contact hour, and faculty are encouraged to reflect these expectations in course materials, such as syllabi. Courses that have an academic work distribution that is different from these examples should make the work expectations explicit in syllabi for both student information and for credit-hour assignment or evaluation by Academic Council.

What this means for your syllabus

Accreditors require that we document the work students do. Course syllabi should clearly state expectations for out-of-class work.  This statement can take a general form such as the following:

“Consistent with Ursinus’s academic expectations, this course requires you to complete at least three hours of out-of-class academic work for every hour that the class meets.”

Alternatively, we encourage instructors to identify activities which are easily documented, and which contribute to fulfilling the out-of-class work requirement. Examples of such activities might include:

  • Regular contributions to a course blog or vlog
  • Field experiences or trips related to coursework
  • Media viewings assigned outside of class time
  • Service learning experiences related to course outcomes
  • Meetings for the execution of a group project

In every case, syllabi should make clear how the course conforms to the credit-hour definition supplied by the federal government.

Appendix: Federal definition of a credit hour

Credit hour: 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 -

  • 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
  • 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.

Source: 34 CFR 600.2 (2014). Available online at