Academic Council

Authorizes Release:

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Responsible Area:

Academic Affairs

Review Cycle:

Annually or as required

Last Review:

July 2022

Related Policies and Additional References:



The academic credit provides the basis for measuring the amount of engaged learning time expected of a student enrolled not only in the traditional classroom settings but also in laboratories, internships, clinical fieldwork and other experiential learning. The credit hour value is an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement to include contact time, the educational experience, and out-of-class preparation by the student.

Definition of a Credit Hour

St. Mary’s University academic departments and programs determine the amount of credit awarded for undergraduate, graduate and law courses based on the unit of semester credit hour in accordance with federal and state rules:

  1. In 34 CFR 600.2, the Department of Education defines a credit hour for Federal programs as follows:
    1. 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:
      1. 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 for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
      2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (a) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practice, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours. In the case of a program subject to the clock-to-credit-hour conversion requirements, institutions must determine the credit hours to be awarded for coursework under those requirements. (See 34 CFR 668.8 (k) and (l).)
    2. A credit hour for Federal purposes is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates some minimum amount of student work reflective of the amount of work expected in a Carnegie unit. In determining the amount of work the institution’s learning outcomes will entail, as under current practice, the institution may take into consideration alternative delivery methods, measurements of student work, academic calendars, disciplines, and degree levels.
  2. St. Mary’s University also applies the rule of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) in the definition of the standard credit hour. According to Title 19 Texas Administrative Code, §4.6, the semester is defined as 15 weeks of instruction (45 contact hours) and a week for final examinations. To ensure quality of student learning, every college course is assumed to involve a significant amount of non-contact hour time for out-of-class student learning and reflection. Semester credit hours, therefore, are based on contact hours. Assuming a lecture format, the traditional 3 hour semester- credit-hour course, for example, contains 45 to 48 contact hours.
    1. Courses taught in shortened timeframes are expected to have the same number of contact hour as courses taught in a normal semester.
    2. Courses taught online may meet an alternate standard but only if the course has been reviewed and approved through a formal review process by faculty that evaluates the course and its learning outcomes and determines that the course does, in fact, have equivalent learning outcomes to an equivalent, traditionally delivered course.

Determination of the Amount and Level of Credit Hours

Each academic department’s faculty review process ensures that the amount and level of credit awarded for the undergraduate and graduate courses is compatible with sound academic practice in the given field. Where appropriate, the departments base their review policies and processes on the standards of discipline-specific professional accrediting agencies.

Departmentally approved course changes are submitted to the dean of the school in which the change originates. Faculty advisory committees in each undergraduate school review and make recommendations on proposed curriculum changes. In the Graduate School, the Graduate Council approves curriculum changes. The Academic Council of the University is the final authority on proposed curriculum changes.

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