Policy Title: Definitions of Semester Length, Credit Hour, and Instructional Time Equivalencies

Responsible Office: Academic Affairs
Policy Officer: Chief Academic Officer
|Faculty |Student

Approved By: Faculty Senate

Approved Date: 5/7/2012

Effective Date: 5/7/2012

Category: Faculty and Staff


To comply with our regional accreditation organization and government regulations, Saint Francis University establishes semester and credit hour definitions.


The regional accrediting organization, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, suggests that universities establish expected learning outcomes that are consistent with the standards of higher education and of the relevant disciplines; and provides "direct evidence of student learning; and assessment results that provide sufficient, convincing evidence that students are achieving key institutional and program learning outcomes."

"These definitions are provided as a reminder to institutions. They are not Commission requirements, and an institution may demonstrate in alternative ways that academic offerings are of appropriate academic content, breadth, length, and rigor, provided that it also demonstrates compliance with all applicable government policies, regulations, and requirements."

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in The Pennsylvania Code, Title 22 Education in Chapter 31 General Provisions in Subchapter 31.21 Curricula, [22 Pa. Code § 31.21. Curricula. (pacodeandbulletin.gov)] provides the following guidelines:

(a) The curricula must provide the opportunity for the achievement of the stated objectives of the institution, as related to its statement of philosophy and mission, and must be structured in a group of coherent, integrated degree programs.

(b) Degree requirements stated in this section may be stated in terms of semester credit hours or quarter credit hours, as determined by the institution and conforming to generally accepted academic practices. General education, as defined in this section, refers to the curricular inclusion of humanities, arts, communications, social sciences, mathematics, technology and science courses in support of the mission of the institution. A semester credit hour represents a unit of curricular material that normally can be taught in a minimum of 14 hours of classroom instruction, plus appropriate outside preparation or the equivalent as determined by the faculty.

(1) An associate degree exclusive of a specialized associate degree must require the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 60 semester credit hours, which includes a minimum of 20 semester credit hours of general education, or a minimum of 90 quarter credit hours, which must include a minimum of 30 quarter credit hours of general education.

(2) A specialized associate degree must require the satisfactoy completion of at least 60 semester credit hours of a minimum of 1,500 clock hours of a minimum of 90 quarter credit hours. At least 70%, but no more that 80%, of the program must consist of specialized instruction that bears directly upon the employment objectives of the program; and at least 20% of the program must consist of general education.

(3) A baccalaureate degree must require the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 120 semester credit hours or a minimum of 180 quarter credits. Of the total baccalaureate degree program couse requirements, at least 40 semester credit hours or 60 quarter credit hours must be in general education and represent a broad spectrum of disciplines in general education.

(4) A first professional degree, except those for the preparation of professional educators, must require the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 60 semester credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours for admission to the degree program and the satisfactory completion of a total minimum of 150 semester credit hours or 225 quarter credit hours for the program. Professional educator preparation programs must comply with Chapter 354 (relating to prepartion of professional educators).

(5) A master's degree must require the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 30 semester credit hours or 45 quarter credit hours beyond the baccalaureate level.

(6) The number of semester or quarter credit hours for a degree beyond a first professional or master's degree shall be determined by the faculty and reflect the recommendations of professional associations or National learned societies. 

(c) An institution may enter into agreements with other institutions, individuals or other providers of educational services to provide all or part of certain programs on behalf of the institution. A course offered for intitutional credit shall be operated directly by or under control of the institution granting the credit. 

(d) To assure academic integrity, an institution shall provide students in a distance education program access to academic and student services, including textbooks, study guides, library and other learning resources, personal interaction with faculty, tutors or other educational personnel by computer, telephone, mail, or face-to-face meetings. The institution shall assure integrity of student work and provide opportunity for student assessment. These programs must comply with the regulations that apply to resident-based programs as prescribed in this chapter and Chapters 35, 36, 40 and 42 and conform to generally accepted academic practices for delivery of instruction through distance education. 

The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Part 600.2 Institutional Eligibility Under the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, [eCFR:: 34 CFR 600.2 -- Definitions.] provides a definition of credit hour.

Credit hour: Except as provided in 34 CFR 668.8(k) and (l), a credit hour is an amount of work defined by an institution as approved by the institution's accrediting agency or State approval agency, that is consistent with commonly accepted practice in postsecondary education and that -

(1) Reasonalby appoximates not less than - 

i.     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

ii.     At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1)(i) 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; and 

(2) Permits an institution, in determining the amount of work associated with a credit hour, to take into account a variety of delivery methods, measurements of student work, academic calendars, disciplines, and degree levels.

The University defines a credit hour using a variation of the "Carnegie Unit" which states that 50 minutes of instruction is the equivalent of one hour.

I.  Traditional Semester Format

The traditional semester will consist of 14 full weeks of classes followed by a week of final examinations. The University considers a 50 minute class to be the equivalent of one hour of instruction. This  is equivalent to 750 minutes of instruction per credit. For example, courses on a traditional face to face Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule will meet 42 times for 50 minutes, and for a final examination. A traditional three-credit course on a two day a week schedule will meet 28 times for 75 minutes, and for a final examination. If other formats are used, the equivalent amount of classroom instructional time should be provided. The amount of classroom instructional time should be prorated for varying numbers of credits. When a specific class in a course is cancelled for any reason - for example, for the closing of the University due to inclement weather or the illness or unavailability of the faculty member then either the class time will be held at an alternative time, will meet using alternate modalities like videotaping of the instruction, or use additional structured instructional activities to meet the equivalency standard. Whenever possible, these contingencies should be explained in the syllabus, approved by the department chair, and documented accordingly.

II.  Alternative Formats

There are a number of alternative formats at the University in which classroom instructional time is less than the 750 minutes per one semester credit, that meet the equivalency standard set forth in these regulations and guidelines. With alternative formats, such as a hybrid environment, the classroom instructional time and the additional structured instructional activities must provide the equivalent learning time. Regardless of the amount of scheduled class times, there should be two hours of outside instructional activities to every 50 minutes of structured class time either synchronous or asnychronous. The syllabus for all courses should clearly indicate the total amount of classroom instructional time and the other structured instructional activities utilized in the course.

III.  Supervised Group Activities

There are courses or parts of courses that include active learning with a pedagogy based on small incremental building of skill which include science laboratory, service-learning, and clinical, etc. A semester credit hour is awarded for the equivalent of fourteen hours of such activity. For this purpose, typically 120 minutes to 240 minutes of the supervised group activity is the equivalent of 50 minutes of classroom instructional time. In these types of experiences, credits are not awarded based on the number of hours only, but also on fulfilling the learning outcomes and/or obtaining the required competencies.

IV.  Full-time Experiential Learning (student teaching, practicum)

Some major programs require that a student's academic activity for a semester be essentially full-time in a hospital, school, or business setting. Examples include clinical rotations, student teaching, internships, and other such experiential learning experiences. On-site supervision is typically provided by employees of the host organization in communication with a Saint Francis University faculty supervisor. Students in these settings spend 35-45 clock hours per credit. In these types of experiences, credits are not awarded based on the number of hours only, but also on fulfilling the learning outcomes and/or obtaining the required competencies as set by the academic department.

V.  Supervised individual activity (independent study, individual studio, tutorial)

At points in their collegiate career, students may have the opportunity to earn credit for supervised individual activities. Examples include (but not limited to): Independent Study (defined as study in which the student is given initial guidance, criticism, review and final evaluation of student performance by a faculty member); Tutorial Study (defined as study which is given initial faculty guidance followed by repeated, regularly scheduled individual student conferences with a faculty member, and periodic as well as final evaluation of student performance); and Music Lessons or Art Studio. Credit is awarded based on the amount of student academic activity. For example, for an Independent Study students may spend three hours; a Tutorial three hours (including for example one hour with the faculty member) of learning activity; and Music or Art activity three hours total and 30 minutes with the faculty member for the equivalent of 50 minutes of regular instructional learning. In these types of experiences, credits are not awarded based on the number of hours only, but also on fulfilling the learning outcomes and/or obtaining the required competencies as set by the academic department.

VI.  General Criteria for Credit Hour Equivalencies

For any activities or methodologies that are designed to be equivalent to regular classroom-based instruction, the equivalent content should:

  • Be related directly to the learning outcomes of the course/program
  • Be measureable for grading purposes
  • Have direct oversight or supervision of the faculty member teaching the course
  • Have opportunities for students to interact under the guidance of the faculty member
  • Be equivalent of an activity conducted in the classroom

Routine assignments may not be used as equivalent content because they are part of student responsibilities outside of regular instructional activity.

VII.  Faculty Support

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning provides a variety of professional development workshops and individual consultation opportunities for faculty to assist in the design, development, and effective utilization of appropriate instructional options and activities.

VIII.  Review and Approval of Courses

When new courses are proposed to the Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Senate, each will be reviewed to be in conformity with these policy statements.

IX.  Student Expectations

Also mentioned in various guidelines and regulations are expectations for students outside of classroom activities, or beyond those activities designed to be equivalent to regular classroom learning. Most of the suggestions are that students should spend at least two hours studying, reading, and working with course materials outside of the in-class or equivalent learning experiences. That would mean approximately 30 hours studying each week for a student with semester load of 15 credits, or six hours each week out of class each week involved in course material for a three credit course.

Approved by Faculty Senate, May 7, 2012; 10/17/2023

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