The following offers guidance to faculty across the University regarding new requirements that pertain to the federal credit hour standard. These new requirements reflect a dynamic higher education landscape and are designed to provide public assurance of the quality and integrity of accredited academic programs. This guidance summarizes key points about the credit hour requirement and outlines a set of practical actions for the University to take to document that the work required for courses merits 4 semester hours—or one Brown credit. By institutionalizing these practices, we will reinforce our commitment to academic excellence and rigor while being proactive in meeting federal requirements and accreditation standards.

I. The Semester Credit Hour and Accreditation: Key Points

  • Brown will have its 10-year accreditation review in March 2018. We are currently mobilizing for the self-study process, which will begin in earnest in fall 2017.
  • The semester credit hour standard is a measure of the quantity of student learning in an individual course, and for degree programs. It is used by federal agencies in determining the amount of aid that students can be awarded through government programs, and to ensure that federal funds are awarded on an equitable basis across different kinds of institutions and degrees.
  • Since 2011, federal requirements hold higher education institutions responsible for implementing the credit hour standard, and accrediting agencies for assuring that courses and programs meet these standards. Recent accreditation reviews of peer institutions have included detailed evaluation of the extent to which courses and degree programs are meeting the standard.
  • One semester credit hour is defined as a weekly minimum of 1 hour in class (or other required educational meetings like labs, studios, etc.) plus 2 hours of out-of-class work. Formally, therefore, a 4-credit course should require 4 classroom hours and 8 hours of out-of-class hours each week in a fifteen week term. Deficiency in class time can be made up for by additional out of class time on a 2:1 basis (i.e., a 4-credit class meeting for 3 hours per week should carry a minimum expectation of 10 hours of out-of-class work). The total of in-class hours and out-of-class work for a 4-credit course should be approximately 180 hours.
  • Bachelor’s degrees are defined as involving a minimum of 120 credits, and master’s degrees a minimum of 30 credits.
  • All of Brown’s classes carry 4 credits, but there is great variation in the hours of required meetings per week.
  • It has not been a standard practice for faculty to include their expectations for time spent on out-of-class work on their syllabi. Currently, Critical Review is the only systematic guide for out-of-class effort.
  • The recent accreditation review of Tufts, which had a system like Brown’s, found that many courses failed to meet the 4-credit standard and therefore the degrees awarded did not fulfill the minimum requirement. Tufts is now engaged in a difficult transition to a variable credit system. Harvard is pre-emptively moving to variable credit in conjunction with a major new student record system implementation.

II. New Practices

To address this issue in preparation for our accreditation review, Brown faculty and departments should implement several common-sense practices:

  1. Starting with the Fall 2016 term, all syllabi should include the following information:
    1. All required course activities along with a reasonable expectation for the time students will spend on them. Examples of such activities include conferences, discussion sections, field trips, research projects, final examinations, etc.
    2. The expected amount of time students should spend on homework, reading, and other out-of-class work.
    3. A statement of learning goals for the class that contextualizes the nature and extent of required meetings and out-of-class work.

    Section III below provides some samples of how to present the time commitment.

  2. To provide students with information they feel would help them in course selection and reduce the time spent in "shopping courses," all syllabi should be posted online on well before classes begin with a final deadline of a week before the official start of each semester. Combined with the additional information on work and time expectations for each course described above, making syllabi available online will provide full visibility and transparency.
  3. Each department should review its course offerings in light of the credit hour requirement to ensure that the full work expected of students is appropriately defined and captured, and also identify if there are any courses that may fall short of the 180-hour standard. In order to fit with the timeline for preparing the NEASC self-study, departments should complete these reviews in the fall term. The reports will be part of the documentation we make available to the accrediting team. Follow-up details for this process will be communicated to departments this summer.
  4. Going forward, the College Curriculum Committee and the Graduate Council should require all proposals for new courses to include the information described under number 1 above.

III. Sample Syllabus Statements on Course-Related Work Expectations

Students are expected to complete a total of 180 hours of course work (“seat time,” required activities, and out-of-class work) in order to meet NEASC standard.

  • Sample 1: Fall/Spring Lecture-Based Course with Labs or Sections

Over 14 weeks, students will spend 3 hours per week in class (42 hours total), 3.5 hours per week in labs (49 hours total), and 1 hour per week in discussion section (14 hours). Homework and other out-of-class work is estimated at around 4.5 hours per week (62 hours). In addition, there is a 3-hour final exam for which approximately 10 hours of review is assumed.

  • Sample 2: Fall/Spring Seminar

Over 14 weeks, students will spend 3 hours per week in class (42 hours total). Required reading for the seminar meetings is expected to take up approximately 7 hours per week (98 hours). In addition, writing and researching weekly response essays and the final paper is estimated at total of approximately 40 hours over the course of the term.

  • Sample 3: Summer Lecture-Based Course

Summer courses are twice as intensive as those held during the academic year. Over 6 weeks, students will spend 8 hours per week in class (48 hours total), and approximately 20 hours per week of out-of-class work (120 hours). In addition, there is a 3-hour final exam for which approximately 10 hours of review is assumed.

  • Sample 4: Wintersession 3-Week Studio Course

This intensive Wintersession studio course will meet 4 hours each day for 15 days (60 hours total). In addition to participating in four day-long field trips to museums in the region (24 hours), students can also expect to spend an additional 6-7 hours each day on large-scale experimental drawings and peer critiques.

  • Sample 5: Online or Blended Course

This course consists of 10 modules. Each module (whether residential or online) consists of approximately 4.5 faculty contact hours and 13.5 student coursework hours for a total of 18 total hours of student engagement per module. The total student coursework hours for the class include approximately 3 hours for a final assessment that reasonably equates to a final exam.

IV. Further Assistance

The following staff members are available to provide additional information and guidance: