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Instructional Credit Hour and Instructional Contact Minutes

Course instructional modality may vary but course expectations must always align with the stated learning outcomes for each course.

Federal Definition of a Credit Hour:  Virginia Tech follows the federal definition of a credit hour wherein academic effort and work reflects intended learning outcomes and is verified by evidence of student achievement as established by Virginia Tech.  This regulation applies to all academic levels that award academic credit regardless of instructional delivery mode.  Academic departments and colleges offering course credit are required to ensure compliance with the federal and state regulations governing credit hours.  Likewise, Virginia Tech follows the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) definition of a credit hour as “A unit of measure representing an hour (50 minutes) of instruction over a 15-week period in a semester or trimester system or a 10-week period in quarter systems.  It is applied toward the total number of hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award”.

For each one (1) credit hour awarded and earned, specific federal regulations expect an approximation of:

  • One (1) hour of direct faculty instruction or classroom instruction and a minimum of two (2) hours of out of class student work each week for the length of the academic semester; or
  • At least an equivalent of work as described in the contact minutes standard instructional formats as described in the Standard Instructional Format Contact Minutes Table 


A contact hour is the measure of scheduled instruction provided to students and is guided by the format of instructional delivery of the course.

Instructional Delivery Definition Credit Hours per Contact Hour Specifics
Design Lab/Studio A course requiring visually focused work where students have “hands on” experimentation or practice of a subject or discipline 1.5 contact hour = 1 credit hour Design labs or studio classes present environments for students to engage in creative or artistic activities. Not considered instruction based but also requiring more faculty/instructor engagement than a defined lab.
Independent Study A course requiring students to experience individualized, independent, directed, or guided studies led by a faculty member or qualified representative.  May not be used for internships, practicums, or undergraduate research. Variable contact hours and variable credit earned.  Student contract for independent study must include reference to specific contact hours with the faculty member. Expectation of specific contact hours with the faculty member or qualified representative in addition to the individualized work.
Internship, Field Experience, Practicum, Undergraduate Research A course requiring students to participate in an approved project, or professional employment or work experience, or undergraduate research experience with an organization external to the university, or under the supervision of an employee of an external entity, or a university expert (faculty member.)

9 contact hours = 3 credit hours

18 contact hours = 6 credit hours


*Awarding of greater than 6 credit hours requires University Registrar review.

Internship, Field Experience, Practicum, Undergraduate Research
Lab A course requiring scientific or research focused “hands on” work 3 contact hours = 1 credit hour A course where all students apply a scientific or technical premise presented often in an accompanying lecture.  There is less expected interaction for the faculty member/instructor but requires facilitation
Lecture A course led by an expert or qualified representative in the subject or discipline 1 contact hour = 1 credit hour  
Recitation A course requiring supplemental or expanded discussion of the content of a specified lecture.

1 contact hour = 1 credit hour

*may also be embedded in the course lecture credits or  lecture offering times

*no more than 50 minutes per week
Seminar A course structured in support of student conversation, shared experiences, shared readings, and led by an expert or qualified representation in the subject area. 1 contact hour = 1 credit hour  

Virtual Campus Courses
:  the department head and the academic dean of the course offering subject will be accountable for all qualitative aspects of virtual campus course offerings as well as assuring the standards for awarding credit are consistent for credit that must be met by all students in other instructional delivery formats.  As an approved participant in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), Virginia Tech adheres to the interregional guidelines for the evaluation of all distance education courses and assures the quality, benchmarking, and course expectations of virtual are the same as on-campus courses.

Contact Minutes in a Semester

Virginia Tech requires contact time of 2250 minutes for a three-credit lecture course.  A Monday-Wednesday-Friday class meets for 50 minutes a day (150 minutes a week), and meets for 15 weeks giving a total contact minutes of 2250 for the term.  A Tuesday-Thursday class meets for 75 minutes a day (150 minutes a week) and meets for 15 weeks, a total of 2250 minutes for the term.  As long as the 2250 minutes are attained, a class could meet a lesser number of days to get the total necessary contact time.

Minutes Per Class Session

(Assuming that the standard per semester hour is 750 minutes aggregate)

Number of Sessions

Number of Semester Hours:

Aggregate Minutes Required:












5 150 300 450    
10 75 150 225 300 375
15 50 100 150 200 250
22   68 102 136 170
30   50 75 100 125
32     70 94 117
44     51 68 85
45     50 67 83
60       50 63
75         50

Assignment of teaching load and academic advising are the responsibility of the department head or chair and may vary from one term to the next depending on the departmental requirements.  Although the normal load for those engaged only in teaching is 12 didactic hours, the loads vary widely and are usually adjusted to permit time for other scholarly activities, for outreach which is related to the missions of the university and the faculty member's disciplinary expertise, and for faculty development related to the quality of instruction.  A didactic hour is defined here as one contact hour in a lecture course or 0.60 hour for each contact hour in a course designated as a laboratory course.  Weighted Student Credit hours (WSH) are computed by multiples of credit hours by headcount (enrollment) at census. (Faculty Handbook, 9.1)

The courses designated as Undergraduate Independent Study and Undergraduate Research are generally unique educational experiences between an instructor and a student.  Such studies require prior approval by the instructor's department head or chair and by the dean. (Faculty Handbook, 9.1.2)