To ensure continued Title IV student-financial-aid eligibility, the University of Michigan must follow all applicable federal rules and guidance from U-M’s regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), concerning credit-hour definitions regardless of course modality (e.g., in-person, online, hybrid, or hyflex). The current federal definition for a credit hour calls for students to complete ~45 hours of work per credit, total. However, it is generally accepted that 50 minutes or more constitutes an “hour” for these purposes, and meeting at least 37.5 hours per credit over the full term is therefore an appropriate benchmark. Regarding attendance, documenting that a student has logged into a learning platform is not sufficient by itself to demonstrate attendance for financial aid and enrollment purposes.

In Practice

A typical three-credit course might feature three hours of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of six hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit.1 However, the U.S. Department of Education has made clear that it does not intend to prescribe “seat time” minimums. Rather, estimates for credit hours in online/hybrid courses should simply measure the predicted academic time-investment for the average student. Estimates can include unsupervised student work, such as homework and research as well as more observable forms of engagement.

However, only observable forms of academic engagement may be used to demonstrate attendance in online courses, including but limited to: submitting an academic assignment; taking an exam, an interactive tutorial, or other computer-assisted instruction, including interacting with lecture videos; attending a study group that was assigned by the institution; contributing to an academic online discussion; and initiating contact with faculty to ask about concepts germane to the course.2 Note that when calculating the “academic year” for the program of study, these types of opportunities for academic engagement must also be available for each week counted as a “week of instructional time.”3

This table provides a per-week, “time-on-task” breakdown for courses of varying term lengths and credit hours that may be helpful when designing a course:

Weeks in Term
CreditsApproximate Hours of Student Effort Per Week* w/ 50 min. Adjustment
137.51912. 2.5
237.525191512.5119.5 5
337.528.522.5191614 7.5
4 37.5302521.519 10
*Note that these are averages and significant week-to-week variation is permissible. Estimates have been rounded up to the next half-hour. Units should not deviate from standard terms (16 weeks) aligned with U-M’s academic calendar without first consulting the Registrar’s Office.


I taught a version of the same class in-person and will be repurposing all the same activities/assignments for the online format for the same number of credits; am I all set?

Generally yes. Assuming the academic engagement hours involved with the in-person version of the course was reasonably estimated and the online workload would reasonably approximate the in-person workload, the credit hours would be the same. The Rochester Institute of Technology provides suggestions, but there are no strict method requirements to follow.

Is it ok if some weeks involve significantly less engagement than others?

Opportunities for engagement should come weekly, but actual engagement can differ by week if the average meets credit-hour definitions.

Are there other measures of student performance that the U.S. Dep’t of Education will accept besides the credit hour that are Title IV eligible?

While there are other measures (e.g., competency based education and direct assessment), offering courses or programs that qualify may require U-M to seek additional approvals from HLC/U.S. Dep’t of Education.

Where can I find additional resources on this topic?

The Center for Academic Innovation maintains this Collection of Additional Resources.

1The U.S. Dep’t of Education acknowledges, however, that not all disciplines or degree types will follow these exact conventions.
2These academic engagement examples were adapted from U.S. Dep’t of Education FAQ guidance.
3Per new rules taking effect on July 1, 2021, these can be synchronous or asynchronous opportunities.