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Procedures: the Credit Hour

Policy on the credit hour at UW-Madison, including definitions, guidance, and exclusions.


The Credit Hour

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


The U.S. Department of Education requires an institution participating in Title IV (federal financial aid) to define a credit hour. Compliance is subject to external review by the delegated authority of the Higher Learning Commission, the university's regional accrediting agency.


  1. Application of the Policy

    Course proposals must include sufficient information to aid in the determination of a course’s credit hour value which is established at the time a course is approved through governance and finalized by the University Curriculum Committee. The credit hour designation is maintained across all course offerings and is communicated to students in the course syllabus or equivalent documentation, along with learning outcomes and/or objectives.

    As courses are delivered, departments and their instructors are expected to maintain the appropriate learning activities for students for the determined number of credit hours. All credit-bearing courses at UW–Madison have an instructor of record who meets the minimum qualification standards, who takes responsibility for the learning experience, and who assesses the academic engagement of students, as appropriate for the course format and mode of delivery.

    The 45-hour-per-credit standard conforms to the standard Carnegie unit of the federal definition that sets a credit hour as a course that meets weekly for a 50-minute period over a 15-week semester and expects two hours of student work outside of the classroom for every in-class hour.

    All courses are required to have stated learning outcomes or objectives. The learning outcomes are a feature of the course and are approved when the course is approved. Learning outcomes serve as a basis to determine if the amount of learning is consistent across different formats and modes of instruction. In relation to the credit-hour policy, a statement of what students will learn is necessary if credit is based on a demonstration by the student of learning equivalent to that established as the expected product of a period of study corresponding to a time-based credit-hour assignment.

    The credit-hour standard for the course, and the way that the credit-hour standard is achieved, are communicated to students as part of the course syllabus or equivalent documentation.

    Departments continue to be responsible for the consistent application of the credit hour, credit-hour policy, and for ensuring that a stated credit-hour standard is maintained as courses and instructors and mode of instruction or course formats change.

    All credit-bearing courses are to be scheduled in accordance with UW-Madison’s academic calendar and session dates calendar. The definition of a credit hour accommodates course offerings across fall and spring semesters, summer term and all sessions, and across all formats and modes of instruction including in-person, online, and hybrid. The credit hour policy provides flexibility to serve the university as methods of instruction continue to evolve.

  2. Regular and Substantive Student-Instructor Interaction

    1. For purposes of this policy, regular and substantive interaction involves engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and it also includes at least two of the following, regardless of modality:

      1. Providing direct instruction;
      2. Assessing or providing feedback on a student's coursework;
      3. Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
      4. Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or
      5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution's or program's accrediting agency.
    2. UW-Madison ensures regular interaction between a student and an instructor or instructors by, prior to the student's completion of a course or competency:

      1. Providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency; and
      2. Monitoring the student's academic engagement and success and ensuring that an instructor is responsible for promptly and proactively engaging in substantive interaction with the student when needed on the basis of such monitoring, or upon request by the student.

    The requirement for regular and substantive student-instructor interaction sets a quality standard for UW–Madison instruction and recognizes the centrality of faculty and other qualified instructors in the student learning experience. The requirement for regular and substantive student-instructor interaction is mandated across all course formats and modes of instruction.

    A traditionally formatted three-credit course will typically include three 50-minute class meetings of instructors and students weekly over the 15-week semester. In a blended or flipped course format, substantive interaction may take the form of instructor-guided problem solving or discussion formats. In online/distance courses, the instructor must use technology and progressive disclosure of content to establish regular and substantive interaction. Independent/directed study, research, studio and performing art, internships, clinical placements, other workplace experiences, and other experiential learning must have distinctive levels of regular and substantive instructor interaction consistent with higher education standards.

  3. Exclusions

    UW-Madison must be authorized by the Higher Learning Commission and/or the U.S. Department of Education to offer all instructional programs. UW-Madison does not offer certain modalities or programs such as correspondence courses, and competency-based or subscription-based programs.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

External References

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143

Effective Date

Source: View policy UW-1011 in the UW-Madison Policy Library


Accountability and Federal Compliance

As part of the Higher Learning Commission federal compliance review, reviewers request syllabi from a sample of courses of their choosing to audit compliance, including checking that the credit-hour requirements are explained to students and that there is fidelity of the credit-hour standard across instructors and modes of instruction. This review is often part of evidence collecting for the criterion that instructional standards are maintained “wherever and however” instruction is offered.

For detailed information, consult the Higher Learning Commission credit hour review.

Credit Limit Policy 

The expectation is that when a course is scheduled, the weeks of instruction will equal or exceed the number of credits the course is offered for.

Summer Term 

Students are limited to course enrollment equal to one credit per week of session with the exception of the eight-week general session. That session allows for nine credits over the eight-week period. The enrollment system does not allow students to enroll for more credits than their credit limit. In addition to the session credit limit, undergraduate students will be allowed to enroll in a maximum of 12 credits across the duration of the summer term.

KeywordsCredit Hour, Credit Hours, Federal Definition, Contact Hour, Contact Hours, Learning Outcomes, Hour, Instruction   Doc ID110511
OwnerMelissa S.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2021-04-26 13:18:02Updated2024-06-19 15:01:02
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