Structure of the U.S. Education System: Comparing U.S. and Other Credit Systems
The U.S. credit system is based on the assumptions that (a) a standard full-time student load is 15 credit hours per semester (or quarter hours per quarter) or 30 credit hours (45 quarter hours) per year; and (b) that credit hours serve as a summation of both the formal learning done in class or other organized settings plus independent study or research and class or seminar preparation (homework). This system does not exactly correspond to other credit systems in other countries and regions.
Students entering the U.S. higher education system with credits from other systems have these credits converted to U.S. credit hours using formulas for the transfer of credit that each higher education institution has established. The principles that govern these formulas include:
- The assumption that the basic academic content and student academic load is similar across universities and higher education systems, even if the local policy on the award of credits differs from place to place; and
- Dividing the number of credits to be transferred from a home campus or system into the number of credits that would be awarded in the receiving campus or system for the same work.
This formulation can result in students from systems where the credit system awards more than 30 credits in an academic year seeing a reduction in the number of credits when translated into the U.S. credit hours system, and vice versa for students from systems where the standard academic credit load is less than 30 credits per year.
For detailed information on non-U.S. credit systems see:
CICIC Credit Transfer Page provides information and links about credit systems used in Canada.
European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) Page is the European Commission’s detailed information and links site about the new credit system being implemented across Europe as part of the Bologna Process.
UMAP Credit Transfer Scheme (UCTS) Page provides detailed information and documentation for the credit transfer system adopted by the higher education institutions participating in University Mobility Asia-Pacific (UMAP).
Academic Credit in Higher Education is an online guide to the credit systems in use in the United Kingdom, produced by the U.K. Quality Assurance Authority (QAA).
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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