Student Workload

Student Workload

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges provides the following federal definition of the credit hour:

A credit hour is the amount of work represented in “not less than one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours 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…”

In a traditional face to face course, students typically attend three 50-minute lecture periods during the week. As we move toward a model of active in-class learning, and as we develop online courses, students may be watching fewer minutes of lecture per week, but they should continue to spend about 3 hours per credit hour on each of their courses each week. Below are some best practices you can follow in adapting a traditional course to follow an active learning or online model. For further information, check out the Resources list at the bottom of this page.

Best Practices

  • Workload expectations per credit should not vary with the method of delivery (face to face vs. online) or the length of the academic term. Create assignments or projects that will allow students to go into further depth if you will be recording shorter lectures for online or flipped delivery.
  • One credit represents about 3 hours of academic work per week. This can include videos or lectures, readings, labs, discussion groups, homework assignments, and any other types of assessments or activities.
  • Expect that students will take 2-3 times longer than you would to complete an assignment/exam, and set time limits and/or deadlines accordingly.
  • Periodically review course syllabi (and course architecture, if you have developed one) to determine whether the student workload is in line with the number of credits offered for the course.
  • Survey syllabi in your department or area to determine where yours falls in relation.
  • In general, the expected workload of graduate students will exceed 3 hours per week per credit.
  • Enlist an Instructional Designer for assistance if you have any questions or concerns about student workload and your courses


Course Workload Estimator, RICE Center for Teaching Excellence

Credit Hours Policy Statement, SACS Commission on Colleges

Hours of Instructional Activity Equivalents, Web Learning @ Penn State

How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload, RICE Center for Teaching Excellence

Fain, P., (2015). Sticking with Credit Hour, Inside Higher Ed.

McCormick, A. C. (2011). It’s about Time: What to Make of Reported Declines in How Much College Students Study. Liberal Education, Winter, 97(1).

Student Workload Policies at other Universities: