5. Fundamental Principles of Accreditation
5.1. COE Mission Statement
The mission of the AVMA COE is to use clearly defined Standards of Accreditation and fairly and accurately evaluate DVM (or equivalent) veterinary medical education programs. The Standards are interpreted and applied by the Council to each school/college in relation to its mission. Through the accreditation process the Council is fully dedicated to protecting the rights of the students, assisting the schools/colleges to improve veterinary medical education, and assuring the public that accredited programs provide a quality education. In all its activities, the COE is committed to operate with collegiality, integrity, and confidentiality and will strive to continuously improve the accreditation process.
To encourage ongoing confidence in the specialized accreditation process, both the college and the COE must be assured that functions assigned to each entity are clearly understood. The following are some of the areas where special efforts must be made to ensure integrity of the process:
- The college must present accurate information to the Council for accreditation evaluation, and must allow access to all parts of the operation during the site visit.
- The college must refrain from misleading advertisement of the program, and must correct any inaccuracies.
- The college must make every effort to protect students. The protection must include, but is not limited to unbiased grading procedures, and access to educational opportunities, scholarships, and student services. The USDE requires that students be made aware of the appropriate tuition refund procedure upon withdrawal.
- When a college releases information regarding its accreditation status, the information must be correct. Should misinformation be released, the college must correct the information in a timely manner (refer to Section 9.4).
- The Council must conform to the AVMA Conflict of Interest Policy (refer to Section 5.4).
- During the evaluation process, the Council must evaluate the college only on the Standard Requirements for Accreditation. Application of the standard requirements to all college programs must be unbiased.
- The site visit and deliberation toward the assignment of accreditation status must be conducted with the highest ethical standards.
- All materials, discussions, and decisions of the Council regarding accreditation must be confidential.
- The Council must recognize college and program diversity when making accreditation decisions.
- The Council must inform all appropriate federal, state, university, and college officials of matters related to accreditation in a timely manner.
To ensure that all matters dealing with accreditation of colleges of veterinary medicine are conducted with integrity and objectivity, the COE has adopted a confidentiality policy. Those who participate in COE activities, including but not limited to COE members, non-COE site team members, appropriate AVMA staff, and the Executive Board observer of the COE, must maintain the confidentiality of all non-public information relating to accreditation and veterinary education.
- Communications with colleges, accrediting and state agencies, and the public. In order to provide colleges, accrediting and state agencies, and the public with the most accurate information possible, the COE has adopted specific policies and procedures governing all COE communications. Communications that are not consistent with the COE's policies and procedures and that have not been approved and issued by the COE are strictly prohibited. All discussions, observations, and documents associated with site visits and accreditation decisions are confidential to the COE and should not be discussed with anyone other than elected COE members, appropriate AVMA staff, the Executive Board and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) observers of the COE, and non-COE site team members when necessary. Information regarding accreditation decisions cannot be shared with any individual or group other than: 1) the university and college through the official report of evaluation, 2) reports to accrediting and state agencies, and 3) the public through official announcements. Any inquiries made to COE members regarding the accreditation process or specific programs should be referred to the COE Chair and appropriate AVMA staff.
- Communications with AVMA Staff, Officers, and Members. It is the policy of the COE to ensure that its accreditation decisions are independent and are not subject to interference from any organization or individual. Appropriate AVMA staff and the designated AVMA COE observers may attend COE meetings and provide assistance to the COE as necessary, and shall maintain the confidentiality of all non-public information regarding accreditation decisions. The COE Chair and appropriate AVMA staff may share non-public information regarding accreditation decisions with appropriate AVMA officials when it is of a privileged legal nature. Should the need arise to consult with other AVMA-affiliated individuals, outside experts, or other consultants, the COE Chair and appropriate AVMA staff shall be consulted beforehand.
5.4. Avoidance of Conflict of Interest
To ensure that all matters dealing with accreditation of colleges of veterinary medicine are conducted in an unbiased manner, the COE has adopted a Conflict of Interest Policy (see Section 21.1, Appendix A). The policy extends and pertains to those COE members who have immediate family (parents, spouses, and siblings) in any of the potential conflict areas listed. Further, the policy extends to all AVMA support staff.
- COE Members, State VMA Representatives, and Consultants
No member shall serve on a site visit team who:
- Is a graduate of any program in the institution being evaluated.
- Has collaborative research, teaching, or service interests with a key administrator or faculty member of the institution being evaluated. (Holding a patent interest, shared research grants, and contract teaching are examples of collaboration.)
- Is or has been employed by the institution being evaluated. (Members who have been interviewed for employment at an institution wherein some conflict arose should exclude themselves from consideration as a site visit team member.)
- Has served as a consultant on accreditation matters with the institution being evaluated.
- Is an employee or former (within the past five years) employee of the AVMA.
- Has reason to believe other conflicts of interest exist that have not been listed herein. (The member should communicate with the Chair of the Committee on Evaluation for clarification of any concerns.)
- AVMA Staff
Although AVMA staff members do not participate directly in decisions regarding accreditation of colleges, they are in a position to influence the outcomes of the process. Conversely, staff provides continuity to the evaluation process. No AVMA staff member will serve on a site visit team who:
- Has graduated during the past five years from a college being evaluated.
- Has been employed during the past five years by a college being evaluated.
- Has close personal or familial relationships with key personnel in the college being evaluated.
- Public Members
No public member shall be appointed to the COE who is:
- An employee, member of the governing board, owner, or shareholder of, or consultant to, an institution or program that either is accredited or preaccredited by the COE or has applied for accreditation or preaccreditation;
- A member of any trade association or membership organization related to, affiliated with, or associated with the COE; or
- A spouse, parent, child, or sibling of any of the individuals listed above.
5.5. Quality Assurance
The COE is committed to sustained quality and continued improvement in veterinary medical education programs, but does not intervene on behalf of individuals or act as a court of appeal for individual matters of admission, appointment, promotion or dismissal of faculty, staff, or students. The COE will review complaints related to college compliance with the accreditation standards. Complaints and/or comments must be written, addressed to the COE, and signed with a personal signature for consideration/investigation. Contents of complaints/comments will be shared with the school/college, and the COE. The school/college will be given the opportunity to respond to the complaints/comment and that response will be used by the COE in resolving the complaint.
5.5.1. Third Party Comment/Complaints
The COE provides opportunity for interested parties to submit, in writing, comments concerning college qualifications for accreditation. The Council publishes a notice of its plans to conduct a comprehensive site visit seeking reasonable assurance or accreditation status in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association(JAVMA). This notice indicates the deadline for receipt of third-party comment. Comment must address the Standards for Accreditation.
5.5.2. Complaints Directed at a College and its Accreditation Status
Students, faculty, constituent veterinary medical associations, veterinary state boards, and other interested parties may submit an appropriate signed complaint to the COE regarding an accredited veterinary or developing college which has made application for accreditation. The COE will take every responsible precaution to protect the identity of the complainant from being revealed to the college; however, the Council cannot guarantee confidentiality of the complainant.
An appropriate complaint is defined as one alleging: 1) an accredited or pending college program is not in compliance with the Standards of Accreditation and 2) the practice, condition, or situation of a continuing or pervasive nature, as opposed to an unfair or arbitrary act of an individual or an act isolated in nature. In accord with the role of COE, matters will be addressed in an investigative manner rather than as a mediator. Only written signed complaints will be considered by the COE. The COE strongly encourages all parties to attempt resolution of complaints before they are brought to the Council. If the complaint includes issues already being addressed by other entities, the Council will take no action on the complaint until such adjudication or litigation is concluded.
Any written complaint by a third party (individual such as faculty, staff, public, or organization) concerning the quality of ethical conduct of an accredited college of veterinary medicine will be received by staff, who will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within seven (7) working days. AVMA staff will make a preliminary investigation of the initial complaint and report to the COE Executive Committee within 30 days. As part of this review, the staff will determine whether the complaint is appropriate for review by the Council, that is the complaint is related to items which have specific impact on the educational process and/or the Standards. The Council is not the appropriate body to review allegations of malpractice.
After review of the complaint and the report of the staff investigation, the Executive Committee will report its findings to the Council and the complainant within 30 days from receipt of the staff report. If, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, the complaint appears to be of sufficient substance to affect the accreditation status of the college, it will be investigated further by the Council. Upon completion of the investigation, the Council will take appropriate action to bring the accreditation status of the college into conformity with the established classifications. If an investigation of the complaint by the Council is deemed necessary, it should be completed within a period of not more that six (6) months after receiving the report from the Executive Committee.
If an adverse decision is made concerning the accreditation classification of a college, the college shall have the right of appeal (see Section 10.11, Appeals of Adverse Outcomes). In any case, the college complained against will be informed of the nature and source of the complaint and the resultant action, if any, contemplated by the Council before such action is taken. The complainant will be notified in writing of the results of the investigation and any action taken.
5.5.3. Complaints Directed at the COE and its Accreditation Activities
Interested parties may submit an appropriate, signed complaint to the COE regarding failure of the Council to follow policies and procedures, failure of the Council to use sound professional judgment in applying the Standards of Accreditation, or failure of the Council to consider all evidence in accreditation decisions. Complaints received addressing other COE activities will not be considered. The COE will determine whether the information submitted constitutes an appropriate complaint and will proceed according to policy.
- The COE will acknowledge receipt of the information within seven (7) days and provide the complainant with the policy and procedures manual.
- Within 60 days, the COE will collect additional information internally, if necessary, and conduct an initial screening to determine whether the complaint has merit.
- Within 90 days of receipt of the complaint, the COE will inform the complainant of the results of the internal screening.
- If the complaint is determined to have merit, the appropriate COE committee will consider the complaint in closed session if the discussion will involve specific individuals or colleges; otherwise, the complaint will be discussed in open session. These actions will occur at the next scheduled COE meeting.
- The COE will consider changes in policy and procedure if indicated, and initiate the change process in a timely manner.
- The COE will inform the complainant of any actions taken within 30 days of the COE meeting.
5.6. Programmatic Advertising and Student Recruitment
Accredited veterinary medical colleges, or individuals acting on their behalf, are expected to exhibit integrity and responsibility in programmatic advertising and student recruitment. Responsible self regulation requires rigorous attention to the ethical principles (listed below) in all matters of conduct.
Any advertising pertaining to a college that is accredited by the AVMA COE must be clear and comprehensive, indicating the accrediting body by name and specifying the accreditation status of the college. Any reference to a specific aspect of the college and the length of the program shall indicate that educational standards for the degree are being met.
The COE accredits colleges of veterinary medicine in the US and Canada, and also some foreign countries. If a college or university makes public disclosure of accreditation or preaccreditation status granted by the AVMA, all information related to the outcome of accreditation must be accurate in all respects, must disclose that the accreditation status affects only the college of veterinary medicine and no other entities of the university, and must provide the name, address, and telephone number of the COE at the AVMA.
Colleges shall adhere to the following principles of ethics:
- The primary emphasis on advertising veterinary professional education should be on the educational program.
- All statements and representations must be clear, factually accurate, and current.
- Catalogs and other official publications (printed or electronic) should be readily available and accurately depict:
- Purpose and goals of the program
- Admission requirements and procedures
- Degree requirements
- Faculty, with degrees held and the conferring institution
- Tuition, fees and other program costs, along with the procedure for refund and withdrawal
- Financial aid programs
- College catalogs and other official publications (printed or electronic) describing career opportunities should provide clean and accurate information about:
- National and state requirements for eligibility for licensure
- Any unique requirements for career paths, or for employment and advancement opportunity in the profession.
- When a college discloses its accreditation or preaccreditation status to the public, the COE must verify the accuracy of the information. The public disclosure of the accreditation status by the college must be sent to the COE and it must include:
- A statement that the college grants the DVM or equivalent degree,
- A statement that the college is accredited by the COE, and the address, e-mail, and telephone number of the COE. If incorrect or misleading information is included in the public disclosure of the accreditation status of the college, the COE will provide the accurate accreditation status to the public, make corrections in reports of site visit reviews or reports of evaluation, or the COE's accrediting or preaccreditation actions with respect to the college, as necessary. The college will be notified that the COE intends to correct the incorrect or misleading information disclosed by the college. Public disclosure of COE corrections will be made in the JAVMA, the AVMA website, or other avenues. Should a college release additional information, the COE must be notified. The Council may maintain or lower the accreditation status assigned until it is satisfied that the public is no longer being misled.