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Unit of Credit

Recent changes in federal regulations now require that the University monitor compliance with federal rules concerning the amount of work required for a unit of credit. This policy requires that an amount of work for each unit of credit be institutionally established, represented in intended learning outcomes, and verified by evidence of student achievement.

Stanford's Existing Policy

Stanford's long-standing policy, which is in compliance with the federal definition, is published in the Stanford Bulletin, and states that every unit for which credit is given is understood to represent approximately three hours of actual work per week for the average student. This policy is in compliance with federal regulations. The policy states:

"Every unit for which credit is given is understood to represent approximately three hours of actual work per week for the average student. Thus, in lecture or discussion work, for 1 unit of credit, one hour per week may be allotted to the lecture or discussion and two hours for preparation or subsequent reading and study. Where the time is wholly occupied with studio, field, or laboratory work, or in the classroom work of conversation classes, three full hours per week through one quarter are expected of the student for each unit of credit; but, where such work is supplemented by systematic outside reading or experiment under the direction of the instructor, a reduction may be made in the actual studio, field, laboratory, or classroom time as seems just to the department."

Guidance on Compliance with the Policy

Every unit for which credit is given is understood to represent three hours’ work per week per term on the part of an average student, or the equivalent. Thus, in lecture, seminar, or discussion work, for 1 unit of credit, one hour per week is typically allotted to the lecture, seminar, or discussion and two hours for preparation or subsequent reading and study. Thus, a 3-unit course offered during Autumn, Winter, or Spring quarter requires a minimum of nine hours of total work per week. The work hours per week are higher for terms of shorter duration including Summer Quarter. It is assumed that any class ends 10 minutes early in order to allow movement to the next class; thus, for example, one hour requires 50 minutes of class time and an hour and half requires 80 minutes of class time.

One unit usually corresponds to one hour of lecture or seminar per week per quarter. Each hour of lecture or seminar is generally expected to require two additional hours of work (reading, writing, problem sets, or other assignments). One additional unit is normally assigned for courses with required discussion sections, when section meetings are at least one hour per week for a total of 10 hours per term. Thus, on a term basis, one unit usually corresponds to 10 lecture or seminar contact hours per term. A 3-unit course would generally have 30 contact hours over the course of the term. Such a course might have a format of three hours of lecture per week for nine weeks, plus an hour of review during the End-Quarter Period. The course would have nine hours of total work per week, three of which would be in-class. Students would be expected to do six hours of additional out-of-class work.

Where the time is wholly occupied with studio, field, laboratory, or independent study work, or in the classroom work of language classes, three full hours per week through one quarter are expected of the student for each unit of credit; but, where such work is supplemented by systematic outside reading or experiment under the direction of the instructor, a reduction may be made in the actual studio, field, laboratory, or classroom time as seems appropriate to the policy.

If a course demands extensive reading, writing, or other academic work, it may justify an additional unit of credit, beyond what would be expected based on the typical assignment of class time and outside work. An additional unit represents, on average, 30 additional hours of work expected of a student during the quarter, and the instructor must demonstrate in the syllabus how students would be required to commit this additional time to the course such as through extra readings, extra assignments, or discussion sections.

Courses that are listed for variable units must specify in the syllabus how unit value is  assigned. Requirements must be clearly delineated for each unit value offered. Students should be expected to attend a lecture, seminar, and/or discussion and perform work in proportion to the number of units for which they have registered.

Federal Definition of a Unit of Credit

Federal regulations regarding the definition and assignment of credit hours under Section 600.2 and 600.24(f) of the Higher Education Opportunity Act now state, in part, that a unit of credit 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 ... ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit or the equivalent amount of work over a different period 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.”

University Responsibilities

The University's accrediting agency, WASC (Western Association of Schools of Colleges) will monitor our progress in developing assessment techniques and reporting strategies to fulfill this requirement. Specifically, WASC requires that the University:

  • Adopt and apply policy on credit hour consistent with federal definition

  • Implement process for assuring “reliability and accuracy” of assignment of credit hours across all credit bearing activities

  • Incorporate credit hour review into comprehensive self-study requirements

Schools, departments, and faculty are requested to prepare to comply with this policy. We recommend that you begin by including expected amount of work information on your syllabus and in your CourseWork site for each course that you teach.

WASC's Responsibilities

WASC is responsible under the new federal regulations to:

  • Adopt policy and procedure for review of institutional responsibilities

  • Demonstrate that a review of credit hours is reflected in institutional self-studies and comprehensive team reports

  • Determine that credit hour assignments “conform to commonly accepted practice in higher education”

  • Optionally use sampling of course credit hour assignments

  • Require corrections of deficiencies

  • Promptly notify the Secretary of Education if systemic noncompliance is found, or significant noncompliance with one or more programs

What's Next

The Registrar's Office, committees of the Academic Senate, and other responsible offices are working to provide tools and guidance to assist in complying with the federal regulations. We will keep you informed through this web site and other communications about the progress of these efforts and how you may assist the University in discharging its responsiblities.