The University of Delaware is lengthening classes by five minutes and requiring two additional class meetings—a change the Faculty Senate said was needed to meet the federal minimum requirement.
“What we find is that we’re 300 minutes short, and that’s an important measure for awarding federal student aid, so we want to get in compliance as quickly as possible,” Nancy Getchell said at a Faculty Senate meeting nearly a year ago, per the meeting minutes. She was the president-elect and is now president.
The definition of credit hour—seemingly central to the issue here—has been criticized as arbitrary for a long time.
The university announced last week that it would, in fact, lengthen classes, beginning in the fall. The traditional 50-minute Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes are being stretched to 55 minutes, and the traditional 75-minute Tuesday and Thursday classes will extend to 80 minutes.
“The decision to change class lengths was made after a university assessment in preparation for re-accreditation,” the university announced on its website. “[Registrar Amanda] Steele-Middleton evaluated policies and practices in conjunction with recommendation of her first UD academic calendar.”
The university said it has always been in compliance with federal regulations.
That announcement, and an email comment from UD to Inside Higher Ed, didn’t specifically mention needing to become compliant with the minimum-required minutes. The institution didn’t provide an interview Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Reviewing policies and procedures is part of the normal business of a university,” a UD spokesperson wrote in an email. “As part of the review of our credit hour and academic calendar policies, we looked at UD’s approved meeting patterns and the structure of our academic calendar. Changes were recommended to avoid unintentionally diminishing instructional time.”
The Faculty Senate backed the change 55 to 6, according to the minutes.
“Faculty and administration collaborated on this in a transparent, effective way,” Getchell said in an email Wednesday.
“As in any institution, there is rarely consensus, but there was definitely robust support from the majority of faculty senators,” she wrote.
The Faculty Senate resolution backing the change said that three-credit-hour courses had “1,950 minutes of direct instruction,” short of federal course contact time requirements.
Federal regulations generally define “credit hours” as:
An amount of student work … that is consistent with commonly accepted practice in postsecondary education and that reasonably approximates not less than one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester.
And those regulations define a “clock hour” to include a “50- to 60-minute class, lecture or recitation in a 60-minute period.”
The U.S. Education Department and UD’s regional accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, didn’t provide comment Wednesday. But if you multiply the minimum 50 minutes per week of class time for a “clock hour” by three (for the typical three-credit hour course), and then multiply that by 15 (for 15 weeks), the minimum requirement would be 2,250 minutes, the same goal number Getchell mentioned back at that May 2022 Faculty Senate meeting.
“What we’re trying to do is preserve the structure that we have in our semester, so that we don’t add time to the end or add time in the beginning, we don’t want to lengthen our structure by a week, if at all possible,” Getchell said at that meeting. “This is what we found that will work within our 14-week structure.”
“It’s odd that we’re finding out now in 2022 that we’re out of compliance,” Victor Perez, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice, said back then. “Are there other universities in the same situation? Have we been out of compliance for 50 years?”
“I don’t believe we have been out of compliance for a very long time, but we’ve added additional vacation days,” Getchell responded. “The best example is the first two days of the Thanksgiving week, which we made holidays but didn’t replace the days. Also Re-Coop day.”
That’s a day off for well-being. UD’s mascot is the Blue Hens, hence “Re-Coop” instead of “recuperate.”
UD’s email statement said, “The review process also provided a good opportunity for us to collect feedback from faculty and students, which led us to not only evaluate meeting lengths, but also create intentionality for consistency of class meeting days within and across semesters. We decided that the slight changes in our meeting patterns would help fortify our instructional time and are in alignment with best practices, UD’s credit hour policy and the Carnegie credit contact hour standards.”
Getchell said Wednesday that faculty members aren’t getting paid extra.
“During the open hearing as well as during the Faculty Senate meeting, this was not brought up as a concern, nor have I heard any faculty mention this as a concern,” she said.
William Repetto, president of UD’s Graduate Student Government, said there were graduate student worker concerns over whether compensation would be increased. But he said graduate student teaching contracts stipulate an average of 20 hours a week, so time will just have to be reallocated from activities such as grading or prepping.
“These are all ways of saving time, so it’s possible, I think, without really substantively changing the contract,” Repetto said.
He said there were earlier discussions of possibly teaching on Saturdays, which “never got far,” or shortening breaks to solve the issue in a different way. He said the registrar met with Graduate Student Government about the topic.
“The whole thing is really exemplary of shared governance at UD, which we’re really big on,” he said.
The university said, “Compensation is not changing because compensation and workload allocation is done by credit contact hour, not by the length of a given class period.”