Credit Hour

Board of Trustees Policy: 3.10

Date: March 2014

Supersedes: n/a


The purpose of this policy is to provide documentation regarding Montgomery County Community College's (the College) procedure for determining credit hours awarded for seated, online, hybrid and other formats pertaining to its programs and coursework as outlined in MSCHE's publication, Verification of Compliance with Accreditation-Relevant Federal Regulations.


The College follows credit hour guidelines to be in compliance with the policies set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the federal government and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

The College applies the commonly-accepted and traditional Carnegie unit definition of a semester credit hour which defines one semester unit of credit as equal to a minimum of three hours of work per week for a semester. A credit hour equals 1 hour (55 minutes) of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of 2 hours of out-of-class work each week. One credit hour thus equals 42 hours of instruction including classroom sessions and outside preparation. The distribution of the credit hour usually occurs over a 14 week semester that includes an additional 1 week period for final exams; additionally, the credit hour policy is applied consistently over different length sessions such as those that occur in accelerated sessions, summer sessions and intersessions. Credit hours at the College are represented in Figure 1 below.

Credit Hours

Credits Awarded Minimum contact time per week for 14 weeks Minimum instructional time over a 14 week period Minimum Carnegie Unit Hours including 1 hour of instruction and 2 hours of prep time
1 55 contact minutes 770 contact minutes 42 hours
2 110 contact minutes 1540 contact minutes 84 hours
3 165 contact minutes 2310 contact minutes 126 hours
4 220 contact minutes 3080 contact minutes 168 hours

Figure 1: Contact hours in minutes representing the 55 minute class period unit at the College and the equivalent Carnegie unit credit hours.

While applied to the standard lecture-style classroom experience, there are several other educational experiences for which credit hours can be awarded including any combination of elements described.  For example, combinations can include a lecture course that has required laboratory periods or a lecture course that includes a requirement for supervised independent study or supervised educational activities.


Semester credit hours are granted for different types of instruction as follows.

  1. Lecture - Courses with multiple students that meet to engage in various forms of group instruction under the direct supervision of a College faculty member. A typical 3 credit course will consist of 126 hours over 14 weeks, 42 hours of instructional class time and approximately 84 hours of work outside of the course (see Figure1).
  2. Activity Supervised as a Group (laboratory, field trip, practicum, workshop, group studio) - Courses with a focus on experiential learning under the direct supervision of a College faculty member wherein the student performs substantive work in a laboratory or studio setting.   A semester credit is awarded for the equivalent of 14 periods of the activity, where each activity period is sustained for 2 hours or more. Examples include labs, clinical sessions, and studio sessions.
  3. Supervised Individual Activity (independent study, individual studio or individual practicum) - Independent study is defined as study under the supervision, guidance, instruction and final evaluation of student performance by a faculty member.  Credit for independent study is defined as student academic activity that occurs under initial faculty guidance and continues with consistent, regularly scheduled individual student conferences with a faculty member, and includes formative and final evaluation of student performance. Credit for supervised individual activity is awarded on the basis of 1 semester hour credit for each equivalent 14 contact hours of regularly scheduled instructional sessions or for each week of academic full-time work (as in student teaching).
  4. Course Competency Equivalencies - Competency-based learning offers opportunities for students to earn credits toward a degree by demonstrating mastery of specific learning outcomes associated with specific courses independent of any clock hour requirements associated with credit hours.   Competencies for each self-paced course are based on definable skills and measurable results and are determined by required direct assessments such as papers, portfolio elements, projects, observation and terminal projects to be evaluated by expert faculty members.
  5. Flexible Learning Options - Credit hours may be earned in flexible learning sessions (less than standard duration sessions such as summer sessions and intersessions) as long as they are proportionate to those earned for the same activity during a standard term. The College uses a course calculator tool to produce Semester Course Meeting Time Reference Time Grids to establish equivalent credit hours. If a course is being considered that does not meet the guidelines outlined in the grids, it must demonstrate that the credit hours are being met prior to the course being listed, and it must be approved by the Assistant Vice-President for Academic Affairs.
  6. Distance Education - Semester credit hours in distance education courses are equivalent to commonly-accepted and traditional credit hours as stated in the College credit hour policy inclusive of all types of instruction identified in the credit hour policy. Credit hours in distance education courses are measured via self-assessment by a College matrix (Matrix for Instructional Engagement) used to equate semester credit hours in distance education courses to semester credit hours in seated coursework inclusive of all types of instruction identified.   A scoring rubric to document credit hours for distance education courses has been established institutionally leveraging the College's governance model.