March 15, 2016


 Education council responds to feedback

​AVMA COE to go before U.S. Education Department in June

Posted March 2, 2016  

The AVMA Council on Education continues to work toward re-recognition by the U.S. Department of Education as the accreditor of veterinary schools and colleges in the United States. But persistently dogging its efforts is criticism of the council, largely in areas where it has no control.  

To satisfy USDE requirements, the COE made a more concerted push in 2015 to solicit feedback from stakeholders through a variety of avenues. Not only did the council consider comments received via and those received in response to AVMA@Work blog posts but also those relating to proposed revisions to the council’s Standards of Accreditation.

In addition, the COE held listening sessions at the North American Veterinary Community Conference, Western Veterinary Conference, Student AVMA Symposium, and AVMA Annual Convention. Comments gathered from these sessions focused more on problems plaguing higher education and the profession as a whole. But more on that later.

In response to a U.S. Department of Education directive, members of the AVMA Council on Education held four listening sessions in 2015. Here, COE members talk before the start of one Jan. 18, 2015, at the North American Veterinary Community Conference in Orlando, Florida. The council plans to have one more, during the 2016 AVMA Annual Convention in August in San Antonio. (Photos by Greg Cima)

The council will hold another session at the 2016 AVMA Annual Convention, Aug. 5-9 in San Antonio. Afterward, COE members will consider the cost-effectiveness and value of hosting any additional ones.

Meanwhile, the COE submitted its compliance report to the USDE in time for the Oct. 9, 2015, deadline, according to Dr. Karen Martens Brandt, director of the AVMA Education and Research Division. The COE will once again go before the USDE National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, in June; the period for public comment prior to the meeting hadn’t been announced as of press time. After the meeting, NACIQI’s decision, along with the USDE staff analyst’s recommendation, will be forwarded to the undersecretary of education, who will decide on continued COE recognition.

Demonstrating compliance 

In December 2012, NACIQI reviewed the COE’s application for re-recognition. NACIQI is an advisory panel comprising 18 volunteer members appointed by Congress and the USDE. Its main job is to recommend to the education secretary whether the accrediting agencies it reviews, such as the COE, deserve the department’s stamp of approval. The USDE then determines whether to recognize those agencies as qualified to evaluate the education and training provided by higher education programs and to accredit or reaccredit them. 

Initially, NACIQI gave the council one year to comply with a series of department standards and submit a report demonstrating compliance with issues identified during its review. 

When the COE went before NACIQI for a second time, in December 2014, the advisory panel, on the basis of the USDE staff report, stated four areas for which the COE must demonstrate compliance before being granted re-recognition, and a fifth one was added during the hearing. The council was called to do the following: 

  • Ensure it has and applies a student achievement standard that is compliant with USDE standards.
  • Have USDE-compliant written policies for its systematic program of review, demonstrate that it involves all its relevant
  • constituencies in the review, and afford those constituencies a meaningful opportunity to provide input into the review.
  • Ensure that it has USDE-compliant written policies for its revision of standards.
  • Demonstrate wide acceptance among educators and practitioners.
  • Ensure effective controls against conflict of interest. 
Dr. Brandt told the AVMA Board of Directors in January 2015 that the COE does have policies on program review and revision of standards, and overlooking them was an oversight on the USDE staff member’s part. The same goes for the deficiency added during the meeting that said the COE still needed to have policies in place to address conflicts of interest.

Out of the council’s control 

Misunderstandings about the COE’s standards, and accreditation in general, were evident in a report (Word, 55.2KB) summarizing the council’s analysis of and response to the feedback it received from a variety of avenues. These included the listening sessions and a survey sent to stakeholders to evaluate what they thought about each standard and the standards as a whole.

The council, which approved the report at its Sept. 27-29, 2015, meeting, identified the main topics that came up as the following:

  • The distributive clinical education model.
  • Conflict of interest/undue influence.
  • Need for an independent council.
  • Accreditation of foreign veterinary colleges.
  • Workforce concerns.
  • Student debt and tuition cost.
  • Number of students enrolled.
  • For-profit colleges.
  • General comments about the standards.
  • Comments with regard to specific standards.

According to the report, “The comments generally reflect lack of understanding of the efficacy of different delivery methods for clinical education; lack of familiarity with the readily accessible policies and procedures of the council; and lack of awareness of the established practices of the council for evaluating all clinical training sites, including off-campus sites.”

For example, many commenters criticized veterinary colleges with a distributive teaching model, which has off-site clinical training as opposed to a traditional veterinary teaching hospital. COE members wrote in the report that the council was “unaware of any objective evidence to substantiate the claim that graduates of programs using a distributive clinical model are ‘substandard.’ To the contrary, graduates of the two colleges that use the distributive model have consistently performed at or above the national average for all graduating seniors from accredited schools on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.”

With reference to council independence and allegations of conflicts of interest, the report cited the four resolutions considered by the AVMA House of Delegates in July 2015 that proposed to change the structure and governance of the council, stating that they were defeated (with 71 percent to 95 percent of delegates voting against the resolutions), “clearly indicating that the profession in general accepts the current organizational structure and function of the council.”

The report said with regard to student debt and tuition, the COE revised Standard 6 (Students) in 2014 to include a requirement that veterinary colleges must include appropriate services to support student wellness and to assist students with meeting their academic and personal challenges, which includes debt load.

“Further, Standard 6 requires that all colleges must provide accurate information to students about tuition and fees as well as information on financial aid programs,” the report states. Also, Standard 9 (Curriculum) requires that the curriculum must provide opportunities throughout the curriculum for students to gain an understanding of personal and business finance and management skills.

The council proposed revisions for Standard 3 (Physical Facilities and Equipment), Standard 4 (Clinical Resources), Standard 5 (Information Resources), and Standard 6 (Students) this year as part of its regular review of standards. It solicited  public input in February to determine whether further revision of these standards were needed.

Standards revisions

COE members approved revisions to two other standards at its September 2015 meeting: Standard 10, which has to do with veterinary colleges’ research programs, and Standard 11, which has to do with outcomes assessments at veterinary colleges.  

Dr. Eric Bregman, alternate delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates from the New York State VMS, was among about 80 veterinarians at the 2015 North American Veterinary Community Conference listening session. The COE recently released a report summarizing comments from the sessions.

According to the COE, the rationale for the revisions to the research program standard was to further clarify the council’s  expectations of these programs and their integration with the veterinary medical program at each college. 

Previously, the standard stated that “The college must maintain substantial research activities of high quality that integrate with and strengthen the professional program.” The council received feedback that clarification was needed as to what was meant by “substantial” and “high quality.”

Now, after a COE subcommittee looked at the standard and analyzed public comments, the standard reads as follows: “The College must maintain substantial research activities of high quality that integrate with and strengthen the professional program. The College must demonstrate continuing scholarly productivity and must provide opportunities for any interested students in the professional veterinary program to be exposed to or participate in on-going high quality research. All students must receive training in the principles and application of research methods and in the appraisal and integration of research into veterinary medicine and animal health.”

Revisions to the outcomes assessment standard clarify how the COE assesses programs that do not have 80 percent or more of its graduating fourth-year students sitting for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, which is sometimes the case for foreign veterinary colleges. In this case, COE members review NAVLE scores with a statistical confidence interval for better comparison purposes. But those test scores are not the only tools for student assessment. All institutions must provide evidence of student achievement through employment rates, attrition rates, surveys, and interviews with faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

The Council on Education’s next meeting is March 20-22. 

Related JAVMA content:

Learning to listen (March 15, 2015)  

HOD again rejects measures to stop foreign accreditation (March 1,  2014)

Report finds benefits to foreign accreditation (June 15, 2013)  

Philosophical differences of opinion’ (Feb. 15, 2013)