Faculty Responsibilities Regarding the Fourth Hour of Quality and Credit Hours

As do a number of liberal arts colleges and universities, Albright College uses a unit system rather than a credit system in its traditional day program. Each course, regardless of contact hours, counts as one unit, which is the equivalent of four credits. Graduation requires 32 units (128 credits), so a normal student course load for each semester is four courses.

The rationale for adopting the unit system in the late 1980s was that students could pursue a smaller number of courses in greater depth and that faculty could make courses more intellectually demanding, both of which would foster an academic setting rich in learning and intellectual inquiry.

For courses that meet four or more hours (e.g., some lecture courses, studio courses, courses with a laboratory, courses with a recitation or other weekly study group session) the fourth credit hour is fulfilled through these additional contact hours. For classes that meet three hours, the fourth hour is achieved through alternative learning opportunities that occur outside the classroom. The course-unit system facilitates opportunities for experiential learning, faculty-student projects, and other learning outside the classroom, which is a hallmark of an Albright education.

Departments and individual faculty are expected to make the fourth hour an intentional and visible part of relevant courses and of those syllabi, so that students are fully aware of this academic requirement and so that we evidence publicly that the College meets federal and state guidelines regarding awarding of credit. To meet these guidelines, fourth-hour assignments should entail no less than fifteen hours of additional student work during the academic term. These activities are above and beyond the expected academic readings, homework, and examinations and must result in products that can be assessed by the faculty member (e.g., paper, presentation, journal, problem set, etc.). The fourth hour must be clearly evident in relevant course syllabi in a brief, separate, titled subsection that names the activities that will comprise the required amount of work to satisfy the fourth hour.

Examples of Fourth Hour of Quality Components

(Written reflection or other assignment should follow each activity) 

  • Service-Learning:  In a political parties course, students participate in election campaigning or in a business marketing course, students develop marketing plans for community non-profit organizations.
  • Cultural or professional outreach:  To provide intellectual depth and professional connection, art history students travel to world class galleries in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington; political science students journey to Washington, Philadelphia, or Harrisburg; fashion design students spend time in New York; and criminal justice classes travel to the FBI Academy in Quantico.
  • Experience Program Events:  Faculty are encouraged to develop Experience programs that would meet the learning outcomes for their courses.
  • Additional reading or writing assignments:  Such assignments should be in addition to those in a typical three-credit course (e.g., exams, papers, homework problems) and should foster the experiential, in-depth and close faculty-student collaborative goals the unit system was created to foster.
  • Use of technology to "meet" on-line: have students engage in a technology-based learning exercise.

Additionally, the College’s academic culture and federal guidelines expect that course assignments should require approximately two hours of work outside class for every hour of class time. Thus, at a minimum, each of our courses should have assignments that demand at least eight hours of outside class work per week, exclusive of fourth-hour work. 

In addition to these steps with regard to individual courses, it is also important that new faculty are made aware of our unit system's goals and policies. To that end, it should be discussed in depth as part of the new faculty orientation agenda and within departments. Our students must understand the unit system, too, and it should be a topic in the freshman seminar and a staple of academic advisement as well.

For further information, faculty are invited to peruse coursework at peer institutions that also use a course unit system. Such institutions include Bucknell, Gettysburg, Franklin & Marshall, Muhlenberg, and Moravian. Also, Albright syllabi are available through the Academic Affairs Office.


Approved at EPC 12/20/16; approved at FEC 1/25/17