Accreditors receiving greater scrutiny with new regulations
By Malinda Larkin
Posted Jan. 30, 2013
Department of Education staff and a USDE committee have recommended continuing the AVMA Council on Education’s recognition as the accreditor for U.S. veterinary schools and colleges. In addition, they gave the council one year to comply with a series of department standards.
The USDE staff recommendations were delivered Dec. 12, 2012, in Washington, D.C., during a hearing by the department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. Dr. David E. Granstrom, director of the AVMA Education and Research Division, said the USDE advisory committee approved a motion with wording similar to that in the staff report.
The motion came at the end of the morning hearing, during which several speakers testified for and against continued COE recognition.
Critics spoke about their issues with the council, such as how members are selected and whether the council applies its standards fairly. Other concerns dealt with workforce matters and how veterinary research is conducted, which are not related to accreditation (see article
In all, about 150 representatives from accrediting agencies and stakeholders attended the meeting.
The COE had spent years preparing for re-recognition by the USDE. In 2010, the council examined and revised its Accreditation Policies and Procedures manual in eight areas to comply with department regulations that changed with the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (see JAVMA
, July 1, 2010
Some of the changes were substantive—such as modifications to the appeals process—whereas others merely added clarity and consistency to policy wording.
Following that, the council underwent a yearlong evaluation by USDE staff that was required to complete the renewal process. This involved a lengthy written submission and an on-site visit to AVMA headquarters to demonstrate compliance with the recognition guidelines.
Ultimately, the staff report recommended that the COE still needs to prove that it meets certain criteria, such as being widely accepted by educators and educational institutions, providing adequate training for individuals conducting site visits, reporting progress in student achievement, accepting and considering comments on individual institutions’ qualifications for accreditation, and promptly notifying the public of decisions. All told, the report suggested that the council would need to make changes in just 14 of the more than 100 areas evaluated to come into full compliance with the criteria for recognition. The report can be viewed here
Dr. Granstrom said one of the USDE concerns involves a recent interpretation by department staff of the regulations to suggest that allowing sitting members of an accrediting body to serve on site visit teams is a conflict of interest. COE members have participated in such site visits since its inception in 1906. To comply with this new interpretation, site team members will now be selected from a pool of trained volunteers representing the various segments of the profession, such as academia and private practice.
Dr. Granstrom said, “Without the in-depth knowledge and experience of seasoned council members on accreditation site teams, the site visit report will, of necessity, become more granular, as recommended by USDE staff,” meaning more specific evaluations of outcomes and methods.
The remainder of the deficiencies that were identified will require minor technical adjustments to existing policies and procedures, he said.
Process over product
So what exactly is the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity and why is being recognized by the USDE so important? First, NACIQI is an advisory panel comprising 18 volunteer members appointed by Congress and the department.
Second, its main job is to vote to recommend to the education secretary whether the accrediting agencies it reviews, such as COE, deserve the department’s stamp of approval. The Department of Education then determines whether to recognize those agencies as qualified to evaluate the education and training provided by higher education programs and to provide accreditation or pre-accreditation when appropriate.
That’s important because only students at colleges or universities accredited by a USDE-recognized agency are able to receive federal financial aid (see sidebar). Recognition must be renewed every five years.
The COE is the only accrediting body for U.S. veterinary colleges and schools. Prior to the December 2012 review, the council was given five years of recognition starting in 2007. The COE also completed the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognition renewal process in 2011 with no deficiencies noted (see JAVMA
, April 1, 2012
Neither USDE nor CHEA recognition is required for an accrediting agency. The AVMA voluntarily sought recognition when the process was first initiated by the USDE and CHEA in 1952 and 1949, respectively.
CHEA represents 3,000 colleges and universities and recognizes 60 accrediting organizations. Many of the accreditors who go before NACIQI are also recognized by CHEA.
CHEA President Judith Eaton said she has noticed in the most recent rounds of NACIQI reviews of accrediting agencies that the staff reports have contained a number of citations requiring the accreditor to do more work to achieve federal recognition—same as what the COE encountered. Typically, these accreditors receive recognition when they return after a year spent making whatever changes were necessary, as opposed to receiving it after just one trip before the NACIQI.
In fact, all but two of the past approximately 40 accrediting agencies evaluated for renewal by USDE staff have experienced similar scrutiny with the same result—a one-year extension to come into full compliance.
Rules and regulations
Eaton said this “two-step” process has been happening for the past few years; the difference is the frequency with which this is happening.
This greater scrutiny of accreditors stems from recent changes, additional federal regulations, and a greater emphasis by the USDE accreditors on having to fully meet all the federal recognition standards, she said.
“In general, folks are finding that the process that’s currently carried out is very, very demanding and very, very detailed, and they are concerned about that,” Eaton said. She gave an example of one accreditor having to turn in 300 documents for the agency’s recognition petition; 400 were required of another.
“The amount of time and effort this is taking is greater and greater. It takes time away from other activities in which accreditors need to engage, like more directly focusing on academic quality and serving students,” Eaton said.
“The level of detail is causing some frustration as well. In other words, we seem to be moving into a period where the process of recognition by the federal government is less about holding accreditors accountable and more about telling them how to be accountable and monitoring it.”
Eaton expects even more regulation for accreditors in the near future, both tied to the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is anticipated to happen this year, and in general.