CEUs are continuing education units. Colleges use CEUs as a numerical way to measure a student’s participation in a continuing educational course. The CEU number is tied to the hours in which the student participates in continuing education class course work. College credit is another numerical measuring tool of colleges, but it is different in several ways from CEUs.
According to the American Council on Education, CEUs -- which could include classes such as accounting, ballroom dancing or photography -- are not college-level courses and are not equivalent in credit to other degree-level classes. Therefore, CEUs cannot go toward earning you a college degree even though CEU classes may be held on a college campus and the course could be taught by a college professor.
Gaining your college degree can help you climb the professional ladder, and it can help you land a desired job in the field in which your degree has prepared you for professionally. CEUs, on the other hand, can help you maintain your licensed status. Your employer could have licensure or certification requirements that you must meet annually in order to continue with them in your field of work. CEU classes can help with that, offering these nondegree courses for businesses within the community.
Your CEU may not earn you a college degree, but it will not cost you the same amount of time. College courses typically run for a semester and require successful completion of a set number of participation hours per course, as well as attendance in class for a set number of times each week over the four- to five-month period. This will earn a student three college credit hours per class.
CEU courses will earn participants one CEU for each 10-hour CEU course activity. Some CEU courses, such as offerings at the University of Minnesota, meet for one date only for a seven-hour period (breaking for a one-hour lunch). These one-day continuing-education workshops require much less time investment than the typical college class, which can require four hours in class per week for up to 18 weeks, adding up to almost 80 hours total commitment versus the CEU six-hour one-day course.
Typically, college course cost is more expensive than CEUs. An example is the University of Minnesota, which charged, at the time of publication, $395 for a one-day course worth .60 CEUs. That's approximately $65.80 per CEU. On the other hand, taking four three-hour college-level courses could run you approximately $6,000 in tuition costs (including college fees) at the same university, which breaks down to between $400 and $500 in cost per credit hour in comparison.