Credit Hour Definition

Background and Process

In Fall 2013 the University Academic Senate (UAS) charged the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) to develop a university-wide definition of a credit hour in anticipation of a request by GVSU’s accreditation body, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). UCC began its work that same semester by analyzing credit hour definitions at peer institutions, as well as seeking guidance from the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs who has responsibilities for our accreditation at GVSU. UCC affirmed that the federal government’s definition for typical lecture-based courses was in place at GVSU and that we will continue to use that definition. Existing definitions at other institutions seemed to define an acceptable range of contact hours per credit hour for other course types. This information provided a framework for a credit hour definition: a range of acceptable contact hours for each activity type.

UCC’s next step was to ask units to provide the number of contact hours for each activity type for courses in their units. UCC collected the contact hour responses and developed a set of average ranges, noting those courses that fell outside the average ranges. UCC also noted that many units didn’t respond to the initial request, so in Winter 2014 UCC sent out a second request. In Fall 2014, based on the new information received, UCC slightly revised the average ranges to create the first draft of a credit hour definition. At the same time, UCC asked those units that had courses outside the definition ranges to provide a rationale. Most cited accreditation or discipline-specific best practices.

In Winter 2015, UCC finalized the definition of a credit hour. In the Summer 2015, UCC drafted this document, and forwarded it to ECS/UAS in the Fall 2015.

GVSU Credit Hour Definition

Courses at GVSU are categorized into one of several course “activity” types. For each course activity type, the university has identified the number of hours students are expected to devote to the course per semester per credit. The definitions do not include homework, reading, studying, or other student preparatory activities. Furthermore, the definitions do not cover faculty workload expectations. In the definitions below, a semester is assumed to be a typical 15 week* instructional semester. Courses offered in other time frames can be scaled accordingly.

As an example, the most common course is a 3 credit lecture/discussion. According to the definition below, the university expects 45 student contact hours per semester for this course.

*The 15-week timeframe includes one week for final exams. A final exam period is typically scheduled as one two-hour block regardless of the number of credits carried by the course.

Classroom-based Activities**

  • Lecture/Discussion: 15 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Lecture: 15 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Discussion: 15-30 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Seminar: 15-30 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Lab: 30-45 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Studio: 15-30 student contact hours per semester per credit
  • Rehearsal: 15-30 student contact hours per semester per credit 


 **Number of contact hours for some courses may be modified by scheduled (e.g. fall break) or unscheduled (e.g.emergency closures) events.

Independent Learning Activities

  • Directed Readings
  • Independent Study
    • These activities are 45-75 student learning hours per semester per credit
  • Research (e.g., Project/Thesis/Dissertation
    • These activities are 45-90 student learning hours per semester per credit

Experiential Learning Activities

  • Co-op
  • Internship
  • Clinical Placement
  • Field Study
  • Practicum
    • These activities are 45-75 student learning hours per semester per credit


The number of contact hours for an online or hybrid course should be in line with the number of contact hours normally expected in a traditional course. Hours for completing homework assignments, working on projects, studying for examinations, etc., should be considered outside the contact hour requirements for the course (***adapted from Charleston Southern University). 


Discipline-Specific Requirements

The university recognizes that some disciplines must differ from the university definitions above, either due to disciplinary accreditation or discipline-specific best practices. A unit may request that a course differ from the university definition by sending a memo to UCC with the following information: (1) give the total number of contact/work hours over the entire duration (semester or year) of the course (e.g., 500 total internship hours over the semester), (2) give an explanation for number of credits per hour (e.g., industry standard, accreditation, cost reduction, etc.), and (3) describe how the course for which exemption is being requested fits into the plan of study during the exemption period  (i.e., what other course are being taken and/or what other academic expectations are required outside of the internship?).  If the rationale is based upon disciplinary accreditation standards, please include documentation from the accrediting body. UCC will consider the request and notify the unit of its decision. If approved, Records will be notified to allow the unit to schedule the course with the new number of contact hours.

Approved Requests

Approved requests will be listed on UCC’s website (and catalog copy). A sample is given below.

                ABC 123 Introduction to the Discipline. 3 credits. Lecture/Discussion. Meets 4 hours per week due to accreditation requirements by the AB&C accreditation body.



(Last updated May 2018)

Page last modified September 26, 2018