The Carnegie Unit

Doug McKenna |
July 8, 2020
  • Academic Policy
  • Holistic and Systemic Thinking
  • Records and Academic Services

The Carnegie Unit

The Carnegie Unit grew out of a desire to provide a pension for college professors and turned out to be a significant factor in the standardization of secondary and post-secondary education in the United States. Its continued usage today both helps and hinders innovation in higher education. Discussing the impetus for, continued reliance on, and consequential nature of the Carnegie Unit is Elena Silva, Ph.D., lead author of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s paper, The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Carnegie Unit has had a significant effect on the development of higher education over the past 100 years. While there are limitations to its application, finding a replacement for this standard has proven difficult.
  • The Carnegie Unit is a time-in-seat measurement that was never intended to measure learning outcomes or subject matter competency. That remains the faculty’s responsibility.
  • Registrars are critical in ensuring the efficient operation of institutions in order to further the mission of higher education: student learning and the creation of new knowledge.

References and Additional Reading:
The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape 
Cracking the Credit Hour

AACRAO Core Competencies
Academic Policy & Curriculum Delivery
Holistic and Systematic Thinking

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