Credit Hour Quantify Learning Time? –

The effectiveness of using the credit hour – the standard unit for measuring academic work in higher education – has come under fire.

In a recent report by the New America Foundation and Education Sector titled Cracking the Credit Hour, the author argues that the credit hour is doing more harm than good.

A big advantage for students taking online classes is the asynchronous format, meaning students do not gather at the same time for the same duration each week. One issue with credit hours, the report finds, is they are used to measure “seat time” or the amount of time a student is sitting in a classroom. But with just 14% of all undergraduates attending college full time and living on campus, it is difficult to apply seat time to online classes.

Additionally, data from the report suggests that time does not equal learning. Several online programs are competency-based, meaning students learn at their own pace, making it hard to translate into credit hours. Obtaining credit for prior learning assessment – in which students earn college credit for learning outside of college such as on-the-job training or the military – also proves challenging to measure by traditional credit hours.

In the report, the author states “the strongest evidence of the credit hour’s inadequacy in measuring learning can be found in the policies and choices of colleges themselves.” The argument is colleges routinely reject credits earned from other colleges, meaning credit hours cannot adequately reflect a standardized unit for learning. If that were not the case, students would be able to transfer their earned credit hours across all institutions. Essentially, students waste time and money when their credits are not transferable.

The difficulty with redefining the credit hour, the report reveals, is finding a balance that is beneficial to all. Because public funds are used to help students earn degrees, lawmakers have an interest in holding schools accountable for student learning. Additionally, the growth of for-profit colleges and universities, along with the steady growth of online programs, has created a dilemma for policymakers. They have to protect consumers and taxpayers from waste and fraud without stifling innovation and new methods to help students learn.

Follow Valerie Jones on Twitter @ValerieJonesCMN