The credit hour’s creator says it’s time for a change

by Tyler Gieseke

More than 100 years after its institution, the credit hour is under review.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — the creator of the credit hour — announced on Tuesday that it is reconsidering the value of the unit, said The Chronicle of Higher Education

Traditionally, the credit hour is defined as an hour of faculty-student contact combined with two hours of work outside the classroom each week over a 15-week semester, the Chronicle said, and was created to determine faculty members’ eligibility to receive a pension.

Andrew Carnegie originally intended the unit to measure time, not learning, said Deseret News. But since credit hours are so easy to understand, their use widely expanded. Now financial aid and graduation requirements are based on the unit.

“That happened by default,” and largely because credit hours can be universally understood, Elena Silva told the Chronicle. Silva is a senior associate for research and policy at Carnegie. “We’re at a point now where we could do better.”

The Chronicle said a likely alternative to the credit hour would be a unit of competency instead of a unit of time. After meeting with faculty and administrators, Carnegie will release a report in 2014 discussing what changes could be made to the credit hour.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave Carnegie a $460,000 grant for the project.

Western Governors University — a nonprofit online school — uses a unit of competency rather than time, the Chronicle said. Deseret News said WGU students are tested to find out what they already know before completing coursework designed to fill learning gaps.