Revised Policy for Standard Term Length

Office of Postsecondary Education
Revised Policy for Standard Term Length

Many higher education programs, especially those leading to degrees, employ academic calendars consisting of standard terms, i.e., semesters, trimesters, and quarters. Although “standard terms” are not defined in statute or regulation, the requirements that must be met for a term to be considered a standard term have been established in longstanding Department of Education (Department) policy. Institutions that use standard term academic calendars are subject to the simplest and least burdensome requirements for disbursement of student financial assistance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (Title IV aid). Academic terms not meeting the Department’s requirements for standard terms are considered to be nonstandard terms, and institutions with nonstandard term academic calendars must generally comply with more complex rules for disbursing Title IV aid.

Many institutions have asked the Department for increased flexibility to modify the length of their terms to better accommodate the needs of students and the specialized coursework associated with certain types of educational programs. In response, the Department reviewed its “standard term” policy and is announcing the following changes:

  • Semesters and trimesters may now be between 14 and 21 weeks of instruction;

  • Quarters may now be between 9 and 13 weeks of instruction; and

  • Standard terms are no longer required to be substantially equal.

This modification strikes the proper balance between maintaining the integrity of the Title IV programs and providing greater flexibility (within the scope of what is permitted by statute and regulations) from needlessly rigid traditional requirements for term length. The Department believes this change will increase opportunities for institutions to offer unique and innovative academic programs, which are better catered toward workforce needs.

Included in this electronic announcement is an attachment titled “Revised Policy for Standard Term Length,” which provides a more detailed description of this new policy that includes examples and Q&As.

For questions about the content of this announcement, please contact Gregory Martin by email at

Last Modified: 11/04/2019