Q: Why does the COE accredit distributive-model schools?
A: All accredited veterinary colleges are required to meet the same standards of accreditation; however, they are not required to use identical methods to do so. The Council on Education’s accreditation standards are designed to have enough flexibility to allow innovation and creativity, as required by the USDE recognition guidelines. This flexibility is what allows higher education to advance and adapt to changing societal needs. The USDE recognition process is focused on evidence of student achievement; that is, has the educational process prepared graduates to meet the needs of society at an entry level. The COE accreditation standards also focus on outcomes, as required, but not without evidence that the resources needed to prepare entry-level graduates are in place, including adequate administrative capacity, finances, facilities, clinical resources, admission requirements, faculty, curricular management, and research programs.
The Council goes to great lengths to ensure the effectiveness of the distributive model of clinical education and has placed rigorous requirements on its use from inception. It is the responsibility of the veterinary faculty to establish learning objectives, appropriate assessment rubrics, and acceptable levels of student achievement for all core clinical rotations. Supervising veterinarians must receive appropriate training, and student progress must be monitored closely during each core rotation. Practices used in the core (non-elective) curriculum (equivalent to an on-site veterinary teaching hospital) must meet the requirements established for an on-site teaching hospital. The majority of core clinical sites used to date are specialty practices. Students are involved in daily clinical rounds on-site and/or virtual rounds with a veterinary faculty member. Each student must demonstrate an acceptable level of progress in meeting the specific learning objectives established for the rotation. Colleges are required to review the adequacy of these sites to achieve student learning objectives and must assure that sites meet the requirements as a facility resource. The COE visits each core site during each comprehensive site visit, which occur at the beginning of each accreditation cycle (seven years, if fully compliant). The Council may require a site visit whenever an annual report or complaint necessitates an on-site inspection. The standardized form used to evaluate each core clinical site is published on this website, as well as the rubric used to conduct a comprehensive site visit.
The Council also developed a special set of requirements for colleges that use the distributive clinical model with or without a veterinary teaching hospital on site. Careful review of the requirements placed on the use of distributed clinical education demonstrates that it is entirely different than learning through an apprenticeship or vocational school education. Almost all accredited veterinary colleges require some off-site clinical instruction in order to provide adequate clinical resources to cover all the major domestic species. The Council monitors the quality of clinical training programs through annual interim reports, regular accreditation site visits, and when indicated through focused site visits.
We’ve heard statements that distributive-model schools are “substandard,” but the statement is often qualified with a follow-up statement complimenting the quality of the graduates. It is common sense that a “substandard” school would not produce competent graduates; however, the evidence supports the fact that these schools produce competent, entry-level veterinarians, as do all currently accredited schools.