Definition of the Credit Hour

Federal Definition of the Credit Hour

All University of Iowa courses must adhere to the credit hour standard below; the rationale for an exception for any particular course must be documented and approved first by the College and then by the Office of the Provost.

During any future reaccreditation process of The University of Iowa, compliance with these standards will be reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission. The definition of the credit hour, both at the Federal level and as applied by The University of Iowa, is below. A complete report on the matter is available from the UI Credit Hour Committee.

The Federal definition states that "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;
  • Or at least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other activities as established by an institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work and other academic work leading toward the awarding of credit hours."

The University of Iowa Equivalencies of the Credit Hour

The institutionally established equivalencies to the Federal definition of the credit hour at The University of Iowa are below. These standards apply to both undergraduate and graduate courses.

  1. For each semester hour of credit, classes that meet in a face-to-face format must include one 50-minute period with the instructor and two hours of outside of class work for 15 weeks.
    • 1 credit hour = 50 minutes contact + 120 minutes outside work over 15 weeks for a total of 2,550 minutes of student effort.
  2. One hour of credit may be awarded for laboratory and discussion sections that meet a minimum of 50 minutes per week and a maximum of 150 minutes per week. No more than one credit may be awarded for lab and discussion sections without approval of the College and then of the Office of the Provost.
    • 1 credit hour = 1 to 3 lab and discussion sessions ranging from a total of 50 to 150 minutes.
  3. Classes that do not have the required face-to-face contact time (for example, hybrid or online courses) meet the credit hour standard if they meet one of the following criteria. The course covers the same material in the same depth as a face-to-face version of the same course. The course has been evaluated by the department and college for content and rigor, and the department and college have approved the s.h. credit to be awarded; this approval must be documented.
  4. Any off-cycle course must be equivalent in both contact and outside work totals as a semester-length course. If outside work is not assigned, lost hours must be made up through additional contact time.
    • For example, a one semester hour workshop course meeting for 5 days and without assigned outside work would need to meet 8.5 hours per day, calculated as follows:

50 minutes contact time x 15 weeks = 750 minutes total contact time
120 minutes outside work x 15 weeks = 1800 minutes total outside work
750 + 1800 minutes =2,550 minutes total engagement of student in course
2,550 minute =42.5 hours or 8.5 hours per day for 5 days for 1 semester hour of credit

NOTE: Standard undergraduate and graduate courses on campus are offered for three or four s.h. credit. Courses that do not meet the credit hour standards outlined above, including those offered for more than four hours, must be reviewed and approved by the College first and then by the Office of the Provost. Requests for credit  hour exceptions at the collegiate level should be directed to Associate Dean Helena Dettmer.