The Department of Education is altering how it determines which foreign veterinary schools are eligible for federal student aid, but any potential impact on U.S. students at those schools remains to be seen.
Title IV federal financial aid programs administered by the USDE distribute billions of dollars to U.S. citizens attending colleges around the world, including Federal Direct Loans and Perkins Loans.
For many years, the USDE, via its National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation, determined whether foreign veterinary schools were comparable with those in the U.S. for the purpose of awarding Title IV funds under the Higher Education Act. As a result, U.S. citizens attending the veterinary schools at Ross University and St. George’s University, both in the West Indies, were eligible to receive Title IV financial aid prior to the schools’ accreditation by the AVMA Council on Education.
However, effective July 1, the USDE will instead award Title IV funding to U.S. citizens enrolled in foreign veterinary schools only if those schools have been accredited by an accreditor deemed acceptable to the department.
The USDE informed the AVMA Council on Education, which accredits 19 veterinary schools in nine foreign countries (5 in Canada and 14 in other countries), of the regulatory change in a Jan. 9 letter. About 619 U.S. citizens were expected to graduate this year from international member institutions of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, according to the association.
To determine whether an accreditor of foreign veterinary schools is acceptable, the USDE developed a set of guidelines that the COE and any other interested agency must adhere to. Accreditors were asked to give information on and provide evidence of compliance with the following elements:
Structure of the system that the agency uses to authorize the establishment of veterinary schools and subsequent oversight of the quality of the veterinary education program.
Standards and requirements the agency uses to evaluate the quality of veterinary education.
Evaluation process and application of the agency’s quality standards, including the qualifications of evaluators, quality controls against conflict of interest, monitoring, and verification of compliance.
The deadline for submission of information was March 15, and the COE submitted its materials prior to then. The COE had not yet heard as of press time whether it had been recognized.
Other agencies that accredit foreign veterinary schools may also be considered acceptable by the USDE. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, for example, accredits 10 of the 14 foreign veterinary schools outside Canada recognized by the COE. The RCVS confirmed that it, too, has submitted an application with the USDE to be a recognized accreditor. The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions told JAVMA in early April it has not yet applied for recognition but was giving it some consideration.
There is no word on whether the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council, which accredits five veterinary schools recognized by the COE, or Mexico’s Council of Education for Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnics, which accredits the veterinary school at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, also accredited by the COE, have submitted applications to the USDE.
While it’s not clear whether the change in federal policy will have any effect on U.S. veterinary students studying abroad, what likely won’t change is the fact that COE accreditation is required for access to health professions loans under Title VII of the U.S. Public Health Act, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. citizens attending COE-accredited domestic or foreign veterinary schools are eligible to receive Title VII funds to cover educational expenses above the maximum amount allowed under Title IV federal financial aid programs. That would be $138,000 per student or approximately $1.8 billion each year if all students currently enrolled in veterinary schools requested the maximum amount.
In 2012, the Health Professions Student Loan program distributed about $12 million among approximately 12 percent of veterinary students who are U.S. citizens. Though no changes in the program are anticipated, it remains up in the air whether U.S. citizens will be eligible if they attend foreign schools accredited by other agencies accepted by the USDE.