NASW-NC Social Work Blog

Your source for the social work profession in North Carolina.

CEU or Contact Hour? Know the Difference.

By Hope Venetta, NASW-NC Director of Professional Development

OK, so what is the difference between a CEU and a contact hour? Most people use these terms interchangeably, but each of them can mean something very distinct and different. When selecting continuing education opportunities for yourself, be aware of what the differences are and how they could affect you.

When a Social Worker seeking licensure recertification in North Carolina calls the NASW North Carolina office to inquire about continuing education opportunities, they frequently use the term CEU. Be aware!! Some of you may in fact need the official CEU for work or a particular kind of designation you are working on, however the term CEU is in the public domain so any organization may award a CEU without receiving accreditation from any governing body. Confused yet? Don’t worry, you are not alone.

The official Continuing Education Unit (CEU) was developed by the International Association for Continuing Education & Training (IACET) and is a measure used in continuing education programs, particularly those required in a licensed profession in order for the professional to maintain the license. Generally, a CEU is defined as ten hours of participation in a recognized continuing education program, with qualified instruction and sponsorship.

Social Workers in North Carolina are not required to have the official CEU. What is required is a contact hour. A contact hour is the actual time you are participating in a workshop. Contact hours are what the Licensing Board is looking for. The Board does not require pre-approval of organized training events attended by the social worker.  However, your continuing education activity is subject to audit.  For a complete description of what the Licensing Board requires for Social Work Continuing Education, please go to their website at

Continuing Education

In accordance with North Carolina Administrative Code, Title 21, Chapter 63, Section .0401. “Continuing education for certification or licensure renewal is required to maintain professional knowledge and technical competency.”  The renewal cycle is defined as the certification or licensure period beginning with the date of issue or last renewal and ending with the date of expiration – usually two years.

North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board (NCSWCLB) policy clarifies that continuing education requirements must be satisfied for maintaining all levels of credentialing, including provisionally licensed individuals.  However, LCSW Associate licensees whose renewal cycle is for less than two years may document continuing education on a pro-rated basis.


Pro-rated Continuing Education for Associate Licensees:

  • 2-year licensure period/renewal cycle requires documentation of 40 contact hours of continuing education with at least 4 hours of ethics focused training.
  • 1-year renewal cycle requires 20 contact hours of continuing education with at least 2 hours of ethics focused training.
  • 6-month renewal cycle requires 10 contact hours of continuing education with a least 1 hour of ethics focused training.

**While the total number of continuing education hours can be pro-rated on a monthly basis, the ethics requirement is adjusted by quarter cycles; therefore, a minimum of at least 1 hours of ethics focused training is required for any period of time less than or equal to 6 months.**


The continuing education requirements set forth through regulation are intentionally designed to allow social workers some latitude and flexibility in selecting course activity relevant to their area of interest and expertise.


The NCSWCLB does not require pre-approval of organized training events attended by the social worker.  However, your continuing education activity is subject to audit.  Although CEU or attendance certificates should not be attached to your recertification affidavit, you will need to be able to provide upon request by the Board, verifiable proof of attendance and credit hours.  Please reference Chapter 63, Section .0401 of the NC Administrative Code for guidance on what constitutes appropriate and acceptable continuing education activities.


In North Carolina, a maximum of twenty hours (one-half) of the required 40 contact hours of continuing education per two-year renewal cycle may be obtained through distance learning activities such as online courses and home-study courses.  However, distance learning activities must be approved by the Association of Social Work Boards’ Approved Continuing Education Committee (ASWB-ACE) or the North Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-NC) to be considered an acceptable continuing education activity for certification/licensure renewal.

If you list any online or home study courses with the ASWB-ACE or NASW-NC approval, please list the Provider name and number (if applicable) along with the course title on the CE Hours document.  You can find all ASWB-ACE Providers listed on the ASWB website at and NASW-NC approved courses through their website at


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