Standard 310: The ABA’s New Take on Credits

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By Kyle Steenland, Associate Editor

In the past year, the American Bar Association (ABA) released Standard 310 (Standard) — a standard that would impact virtually every law student currently enrolled in accredited law schools.[1] This Standard delineates precisely what constitutes a “credit hour” and sets forth the requirements needed to receive credits from an academic activity. They necessitate an “equivalent amount of work” that must be fulfilled within activity that would yield efforts equivalent to energy put forth in the classroom. To quantify such efforts, the Standard now requires individuals to tabulate time dedicated to the credit-bearing academic activity.[2] This article explores the resulting impact of these new policies and responsibilities on students and faculty, and examines the underlying motivations for their enactment.

The Department of Education (DOE) provides that institutions who award Federal student aid must use the credit hour definition in the allocation of such aid.[3] The credit hour unit itself is a “proxy measure of a quantity of student learning,” and this new definition establishes a consistent measure across all institutions for the minimum amount of work necessary to receive a credit.[4] The regulatory language of 34 CFR 600.2 defines a credit hour for Federal programs as 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 or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or

At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.[5]

However, if the institution wishes to define a credit hour by measures such as student progress, learning outcomes, or other measures determined as a reasonable equivalency to a credit hour, it may do so — provided the institution establishes a methodology to equate the assessment to credit hours.[6] Thus, although appearing rigid at first glance, there is flexibility for the accrediting agencies to determine the amount of time and energy required for credit appropriation.

In compliance with the DOE’s mandate, the ABA has revised its credit-hour policy for law schools nationwide.[7] These revisions changed several notable items, from changing the unit of measure from minutes to hours, including the time necessary to complete a final examination in credit-work calculation, and adding the requirement that out-of-class work be calculated in the determination of work needed for a credit.[8] Further, the new Standard no longer focuses on “seat time” or time spent in the classroom setting under faculty instruction but, rather, takes a holistic approach and considers credits granted in “commensurate with the time and effort of the educational experience.”[9] The Standard requires a law school to publish and adhere to policies determining credit hours, as well as adopts the 34 CFR 600.2’s language for

In its guidance memo issued in May 2016, the ABA recommended a minimum of 45 hours of total time per credit across courses or clinics for law schools to adopt in consideration of their policies.[10] Duquesne University School of Law has adopted this policy and has applied it to all possible credit-bearing activities as required to maintain ABA accreditation.[11] Furthermore, to properly assure the ABA of the School of Law’s compliance in these measures, individuals involved in non-classroom, credit-bearing activities — such as clinics, directed research, or extra-curricular activities — are to tabulate the time dedicated to these tasks.

The accurate and equitable distribution of federal student aid funding requires a consistent credit-hour definition. It ensures that each student is treated equitably with regards to the amount federal aid dispensed to each credit received. Previously, there existed vulnerabilities in the student aid allocation system.[12] These vulnerabilities primarily took the form of a lack of minimum standards necessary to earn a credit-hour; upon audits of the major accrediting agencies, it was discovered that these potential vulnerabilities allowed for institutions to disproportionately assign credits.[13] As student-aid funding follows credits, unscrupulous institutions could exploit this and receive excessive student-aid funding.[14]

The impact of this policy, and its tabulating requirement, is being experienced by all in Duquesne Law. In an effort to gauge some of this impact, three interviews were held with student leaders and faculty.

Amanda Perry, President of the Student Bar Association, questioned the efficacy of the policy in its measures to combat the problems it seeks to fix.[15] She was of the opinion that the blanket nature of the new requirements penalizes all students for the actions of a few bad actors. Catie McKay, Editor-in-Chief of the Business Law Journal, expressed initial concern over credits earned in previous semesters that were garnered through academic activities.[16]

In an interview with Dean Ella Kwisnek, Assistant Dean of Students, Vice Dean of the Evening Division, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Legal Skills, she assured that any credits previously earned in a credit-bearing activity would be grandfathered in.[17] All, however, agreed that timekeeping is an essential element in the operational methods of the legal profession — and that gaining an appreciation for it now likely will serve as a benefit in the future.

Overall, the new policy does add work for both students and faculty in an environment already inundated with obligations. However, the benefits of combating exploitation of taxpayer dollars and the learning experience of monitoring one’s time may ultimately outweigh the inconvenience of effectuating the latter.

 

Kyle Steenland is a 2019 J.D. Candidate and associate editor of Juris Magazine. He is a graduate of the Pennsylvania University and hopes to pursue a career in criminal justice.

 

Sources


[1] Determination of Credit Hours for Coursework Standard 310, at 21 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2017).

[2] Id.

[3] Program Integrity Questions and Answers – Credit Hour, Laws & Guidance / Higher Education, Department of Education (Nov. 10, 2017), https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/credit.html#credit.

[4] Guidance to Institutions and Accrediting Agencies Regarding a Credit Hour as Defined in the Final Regulations, Federal Student Aid (Mar. 18, 2011), https://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1106.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Program Integrity, supra note 3.

[7] Managing Director’s Guidance Memo Standard 310, American Bar Association (May 2016), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/governancedocuments/2016_standard_310_guidance_memorandum.authcheckdam.pdf.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] 2.14 Standards for Determining Credit Hours for Coursework, Duquesne University School of Law (Nov. 10, 2017), https://www.law.duq.edu/214-standards-determining-credit-hours-coursework.

[12] Guidance to Institutions, supra note 4.

[13] Id.

[14] Program Integrity Issues, Department of Education Federal Register 66858 (Oct 2010), https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-10-29/pdf/2010-26531.pdf.

[15] Interview with Amanda Perry, President of the Student Bar Association, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Nov. 2017).

[16] Interview with Catie McKay, Editor-in-Chief, Business Law Journal, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Oct. 2017).

[17] Interview with Ella Kwisnek, Assistant Dean of Students, Vice Dean of the Evening Division, Assistant Professor of Clinical Legal Skills, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Nov. 2017).

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