Mercer Credit Hour Policy Explainer

Understanding credit hours and instructional requirements

Do you know what the Credit Hour Policy really means?

The full policy can be viewed here.

To maintain fidelity to federal program integrity regulations and requirements of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Mercer adheres to the Carnegie unit for contact time for all courses that award academic credit regardless of the delivery method.

The Carnegie unit for contact time means that for every credit hour awarded, faculty members must provide 750 minutes of direct instruction and out-of-class work that requires a minimum of 1500 minutes per credit hour.

The Carnegie rule for direct instruction

If you teach a 3-credit hour course, you must provide 2,250 minutes of direct instruction in the semester. Direct instruction includes activities in which you teach your students directly, like classroom teaching or holding synchronous sessions in an online or blended course.

Example: A traditional 3-credit hour course

For a F2F class on MWF over a full semester, this = 3 fifty-minute sessions weekly. So, if you teach each session, you’ve met this part of the policy.

But what if you cancel a class? Or two classes? Now you’re short 50 or 100 minutes of direct instruction. What if you dismiss class 30 minutes early? You’re still short. Per the policy, you must provide those minutes of direct instruction to your students. It’s up to you and perhaps your academic unit how you do this, but you must meet the minimum expectation of 2,250 minutes of direct instruction for a 3-credit hour class. Providing substitute activities is essential if you must miss class.

Activities that count toward direct instruction include:

  1. In-class instruction
  2. In-class tests/quizzes
  3. In-class student presentation
  4. Online lectures/instruction (synchronous and asynchronous)
  5. Online content modules
  6. Virtual synchronous class meetings
  7. Videoconference meetings
  8. Videononference presentations
  9. Online test/quizzes
  10. Discussion boards
  11. Virtual labs
  12. Virtual or non-virtual field trips
  13. Virtual or non-virtual service learning
  14. Group and/or team-based activities
  15. Audio lectures (including podcasts) accompanied by a low-stakes assessment

Need help estimating if the activities in your online course meet the direct instruction requirement? Use Baylor University’s worksheet for guidance.

So, if you cancel or miss class, you must provide direct instruction activities that fulfill the amount of time you missed.
*This is why the University always offers make-up days for weather-related cancellations.*

If you do not provide 750 minutes (12 & 1/2 hours) of direct instruction for every credit hour of your course, you violate the Mercer credit hour policy.

The Carnegie rule for indirect instruction

The Carnegie unit for contact time means that for every credit hour awarded, faculty members must provide a minimum of 1500 minutes (25 hours) of out-of-class work.

If you teach a 3-credit hour course, you must provide students with a total of 4,500 minutes of out-of-class work in the semester according to this policy. For a traditional F2F full semester course, this equates to 300 minutes of out-of-class work each week for 16 weeks, or 4.7 hours per week.

What is out-of-class work? Essentially, any work the student does as assigned or in preparation for class in which you are not directly engaged. This could include reading, homework, projects, studying, or anything defined by you and your academic unit as acceptable for this policy. Can your students complete the work you assign faster than 4+ hours per week? Maybe. But for 3-credit hour course, you still must provide out-of-class work that would take a typical student roughly 5 hours to complete.

Need help estimating if your out-of-class student workload meets this requirements? Use Wake Forest University’s estimator for guidance.

You and your academic unit’s leadership are responsible for ensuring that your class meets the policy requirements for out-of-class activities.

What about Online and Blended Courses?

Blended and online courses, including all courses designated as distance learning courses, must meet the Mercer credit hour policy for both direct instruction and out-of-class work. Because the nature of distance learning courses flips more work outside of traditional “class session” environments, faculty members and academic unit leadership must work hard to ensure that
course activities are meeting the policy as prescribed.This is especially true for 8-week courses.

What you can do to comply with this policy?

1. Put it in your syllabus

Include a breakdown of your direct instruction and out-of-class work time in your syllabus. This quantitative description communicates time expectations to your students and holds you and your students accountable to Mercer’s credit hour policy. You can provide something like this in your syllabi for direct & indirect instruction:

Example One — Traditional F2F Full Semester

A Face-to-Face full semester three-credit hour course:
This semester, you can expect our course to require this amount of time:

  • 2.5 hours of in-class time per week (2,250 minutes / 37.5 hours)
  • 4.7 hours of out-of-class studying, homework, case studies, and projects per week

Example Two — Online Full Semester

An online full semester three-credit hour course:

  • 50 minutes weekly synchronous web conference = 750 minutes
  • 45 minutes weekly on course simulation activities = 675 minutes
  • 15 minutes weekly on threaded course discussion = 225 minutes
  • 30 minutes weekly on live, timed reading quizzes = 450 minutes
  • 10 minutes weekly listening to recorded instructor podcast = 150 minutes
  • 4.7 hours of weekly out-of-class studying, homework, case studies, and projects

Example Three — Online 8-week Semester

An online 8-week three-credit hour course:

  • 90 minute weekly synchronous web conference = 720 minutes
  • Weekly discussions requiring at least 600 words = 450 minutes
  • Group simulations activities per week = 400 minutes
  • 60 minutes per week on live, timed quizzes = 480 minutes
  • Weekly student presentations via Zoom conference = 200 minutes
  • 9+ hours of weekly out-of-class studying, homework, case studies, and projects

Example Four — Blended (Hybrid) Full Semester

A blended (AKA hybrid) full semester course:

  • 6 four-hour on-campus sessions = 1,440 minutes
  • 8 one-hour synchronous Zoom sessions = 480 minutes
  • Weekly timed quizzes = 330 minutes
  • 4.7 hours of weekly out-of-class studying, homework, case studies, and projects
  • Need help understanding how to balance in-class and out-of-class direct instruction in a blended course? Use the University of West Georgia’s Instructional Time Estimator for help.

2. Provide substitute activities if you miss class

Provide a substitute method of direct instruction. If you know you will miss a class, ask a colleague to teach it instead, record your lecture in advance, or offer direct instruction via a Canvas presentation, discussion, or other activity.

3. Maintain awareness of the Mercer Credit Hour Policy

As you collaboratively work on syllabi and and course requirements, keep the Mercer Credit Hour policy in your discussions. If you plan to miss a class session, arrange for a colleague to take your place so that the class still meets or provide a substitute activity. Ensure all courses in your department are meeting the time requirement.