Julie’s Inbox

Executive Director

Q; I have a question regarding the relationship between hours and units. My question is specifically about lecture only courses. We have some lecture courses on campus which meet for more hours than would match the specific formula stated in the Program and Course Approval Handbook (PCAH). This variation to the formula seems allowable under the current state requirements if the out-of-class requirements are proportionally reduced. Am I correct in thinking this? And is there any sort of standard practice for indicating this variance on the COR?

Sincerely U2Hrs

Dear U2Hrs,

A: This topic is becoming increasingly important because ACCJC is now paying attention to the issue and is beginning to check that colleges are observing the proper units-to-hours ratios (or Carnegie Units, as it is called nationally). Colleges need to avoid inflating either units or hours outside of appropriate proportions. Certain disciplines, most frequently those in basic skills, sometimes make the argument that they need more time with the students. However, with some of the technological resources we now have, we may be able to provide additional assistance to those students who need it without manipulating the hours-to-units ratio. That is a local decision, of course, but it is something that could be considered.

That said, Title 5 language on the issue of hours-to-units calculation is somewhat vague, and the PCAH does allow for a bit of adjustment. The standard formula for a lecture course is 18 hours in-class plus 36 hours of out-of-class study for one unit for a total of 54 hours of instruction. The PCAH also states, “When the combination of lecture and out-of-class study plus laboratory work reaches 108 student learning hours on the semester system or 72 student learning hours on the quarter system, or twice the number of hours required for one unit, students must earn at least two units of credit” (page 47). Note that while previous versions of the PCAH stated that when the hours of instruction reached this total, students “should” earn at least two units, the fourth edition of the PCAH (March 2012) changes “should” to “must.” However, the PCAH also allows some flexibility with the application of this formula, noting that “a course for which three units is awarded may meet four hours a week over a semester and still be in compliance with these regulations if it is assumed that the increased classroom time serves to decrease outside study time. Thus, a course that seemingly meets for more hours per week than the units awarded may be in compliance, as opposed to a course that simply requires an excess of total classroom hours for the units awarded” (page 46). Thus, some degree of adjusting the ratio of in-class to out-of-class hours, though not necessarily recommended, is permitted as long as the total instructional hours meet the appropriate threshold.

However, if a college does adjust the ratio for a specific class, the Course Outline of Record (COR) should spell out as specifically as possible how the extra in-class or out-of-class time will be used. The PCAH states, “Given the variety in calculation of total student contact hours, colleges must make explicit in the COR not only the total units for the course, but the lecture/lab breakdown of the units, the term length being used for the total student contact hour calculation, and the total student contact hours” (page 48). We do not have any set template for delineating these variances, and an exact model would be difficult to design because we do not have a common model for CORs in general. But whatever way you record it, the ASCCC recommends that the department proposing a variance from the standard formula be asked to justify in considerable detail how the extra time in- or out- of class will be used.

Good luck! Executive Committee