OWU Guidelines for Relating Credit Hours to Student Workload

Within the last decade the federal government has begun requiring accrediting agencies, to review the hours spent by students in “direct” and “indirect” instruction for courses, to assure that federal expectations for Title IV are being met.  As part of our 2018-19 reaffirmation of accreditation the HLC team will review our Federal Compliance submissions, which will include looking at our definitions of OWU unit of credit and surveying syllabi to determine alignment with time/work expectation.

Instructors expect (or at least hope for) significant work by students in their courses, but the type of work students perform outside of class varies widely, within and across courses.  This includes, among other things:  Reading, writing, problem solving, study, research, and analysis.  Recognizing that there will always be variation in the total amount of time that we expect our students to spend in our courses, it is important that we strive for some level of consistency regarding time spent per unit of graduation credit awarded.

The most widely used academic credit measure in higher education is the semester hour.  At Ohio Wesleyan, however, we use “units” instead of semester hours, with our conversion being 1.0 units = 3.75 semester hours.  The federal government defines a semester hour to be work that is a reasonable approximation to fifteen weeks (including a week of final exams) with one hour of classroom (direct) instruction and two hours of student work out of class (indirect instruction) each week.  An equivalent amount of work is expected for academic activities such as labs, internships, studio work, etc.  Recognizing that “one hour of classroom instruction” in actuality translates into 50 minutes (and a 10 minute break), the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR) specifies one semester hour as 750 minutes of direct instruction plus twice as much time (1500 minutes) on out of class work per semester.  Although OWU is not bound by OBR dictates, their definitions provide a useful metric for determining our alignment with federal expectations.

Because we award 3.75 semester hours of credit, instead of 3.0 credit hours, for our 1.0 unit of graduation credit, our expectation is that students will spend more time outside of our classes on their work than is true at other (typically state-affiliated) institutions.  The table below uses the OBR guidelines to show the expectations for direct (in-class) and indirect (out-of-class) learning for the various amounts of credit we offer at OWU.

Course Unit Value Total number of hours of direct and indirect activity per semester Total number of hours of direct and indirect activity per week for 15 weeks
0.13 ~18 1 hour 15 minutes
0.25 ~ 35 2 hours 20 minutes
0.50 ~70 4 hours 40 minutes
1.00 ~141 9 hours 25 minutes
1.25 ~176 11 hours 45 minutes

When designing a course, instructors should think about the time that will be required for students to do the following:

  • read assignments
  • write papers, e.g.:
    • reflection papers
    • research papers—include the research time
    • reviews of books or articles
    • revisions
  • work on homework assignments/problems/questions
  • complete group projects
  • review and study material from class or readings

It might be helpful for the time expectations for various assignments to be indicated in the course syllabus, as guidance for students.

General Guidelines for Some Typical Categories of OWU Courses

1.0-unit courses

To estimate the out-of-class time that a student should be expected to spend, the in-class time can be subtracted from the last column in the table.  For a typical 50-minute class that meets three times per week, 2 ½ hours of in-class time can be subtracted, leaving an expectation of about 7 hours of indirect (outside of class) work.

1.25-unit courses

These classes are typically lecture courses that meet three or four times per week, plus a laboratory meeting of three hours.  Because the laboratory time typically exceeds the total time expectation for the extra 0.25 units, students are not necessarily expected to work outside of class any more than would be the case for a 1.0 unit course.

Directed Readings and Independent Studies

Students completing directed readings or independent studies for 1.0 unit should be spending about 140 hours or approximately 10 hours per week on the readings and projects including the time spent meeting with the instructor.  This assumes no work during final exam week.


To receive 1.0 unit of a credit for an internship, the student should intern for 140 hours, or 10 hours per week for 14 weeks. Time spent in reflective activities can be counted toward the 140 hours. The reflective activities can include writing papers or meeting with an OWU faculty member to discuss and evaluate the internship experience.

Modular courses

Aside from PE activity classes, discussed later, most modular courses at OWU are 0.50-unit, seven-week courses that meet for three to four “hours” per week, as 1.0-unit courses do.  The expected time for these courses is about 10 hours per week, because there is not a separate week for final exams for these courses.

UC 160

UC 160 meets once a week for 50 minutes, so out-of-class activities and work should require one-and-a-half hours per week, on average.

Travel-Learning courses

To receive an additional 0.25 unit for the travel component, a travel-learning course would have the expectation of an additional 35 hours of learning activities, including time during the trip, additional class sessions, or pre- or post- travel assignments.

Activity Classes

To warrant 0.25 units of credit, we should expect 35 hours of work. Currently, many activity classes meet 3 times a week for either the first or second module, or for two one-hour-and-fifteen-minute sessions. These classes have 17.5 hours of face-to-face instruction, so the sections should have out of class expectations of students of at least 17.5 hours to warrant the 0.25 unit of credit. Other classes meet twice a week for an hour and 50 minutes each session. These classes have 25.7 contact hours, so we should expect 9.3 hours of out-of-class activities. Out-of-class work for activity courses could be time spent exercising or performing the activity for practice or time spent reading and researching the topic of the sport or activity.

0.25-unit laboratory courses

Some departments have stand-alone laboratory sections.  If these laboratories meet three-hours per week they more than meet the learning time expectation, without requiring out-of-class work.

Music Ensembles and Private Music Lessons

Music ensembles and private music lessons meet the standard if the time required for rehearsals, performances, and practice meet the time standards for direct and indirect instruction in the table. For private lessons this would mean two, four, or eight hours of practice per week for the 0.25-, 0.50- and 1.0-unit lessons.

Summer session courses

Summer session meets for 22 days of classes and one day of final exams.  Classes meet for 90 minutes each day, for a total of 33 hours of direct instruction, plus another 3 hours for the final exam.  Students will then be expected to spend 105 hours on out-of-class work.  To make up for less direct instructional time, and compressing the regular workload into four-and-a-half weeks, students will need to spend over 23 hours per week on studies for each course they are taking.