Education council recognized by national council on accreditation

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The AVMA Council on Education, which accredits veterinary colleges, has received renewed recognition from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Following a yearlong process of review, the CHEA board of directors granted continued recognition to the Council on Education on Jan. 23.

CHEA is an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that grants formal recognition to accreditation bodies for higher education that meet rigorous standards.

The COE doesn't operate in a vacuum. There are hard-and-fast rules and expectations that must be followed to become and to remain a recognized accrediting agency in the U.S.

Dr. David E. Granstrom, director, AVMA Education and Research Division

"In short, CHEA recognition provides assurance to the public and the profession that the AVMA Council on Education is fulfilling its charge in accordance with nationally established standards," said Dr. David E. Granstrom, director of the AVMA Education and Research Division.

The CHEA Committee on Recognition found the council in full compliance with all criteria and recommended that it be recognized for up to 10 more years—the maximum length of recognition.

In its standards for recognition, CHEA requires accrediting bodies to meet the following criteria:

  • Advances academic quality.
  • Demonstrates accountability.
  • Encourages, where appropriate, self-scrutiny and planning for change and for needed improvement.
  • Employs appropriate and fair procedures in decision making.
  • Demonstrates ongoing review of accreditation practices.
  • Possesses sufficient resources.

The Council on Education has been continuously recognized by CHEA and its predecessors as well as the Department of Education for more than 50 years. The forerunner of the COE was founded within a year of the founding of the AVMA in 1863 (as the United States Veterinary Medical Association). The COE currently accredits 45 veterinary institutions—33 in the U.S. and Canada, and 12 in other countries.

CHEA scrutinizes the COE every 10 years and requires interim reports three and six years after recognition. DOE recognition must be renewed every five years.

Recognition by these two entities obligates the COE to follow strict guidelines designed to ensure that appropriate standards of accreditation have been developed and are being applied fairly and uniformly to all colleges seeking accreditation.

To be eligible for CHEA recognition, the COE had to "demonstrate independence from any parent entity, or sponsoring entity, for the conduct of accreditation activities and determination of accreditation status."

The COE is also a member of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors, which serves to advance the knowledge, skills, good practices, and ethical commitments of accreditors. The council adheres to the ASPA Code of Good Practice.

The CHEA review

The Council on Education submits voluntarily to CHEA review as part of its program of continuous improvement. It is a multistep process during which the COE had to demonstrate the quality of its activities and the value of those activities to higher education and the public interest.

Dr. Granstrom said, "Accreditation is a peer-review process that involves veterinarians in private, public, and academic practice as well as members of the public all working together to ensure veterinary education maintains high academic standards and continues to meet the needs of society."

The council's submission of eligibility documentation in September 2010 set the CHEA review in motion. The process continued with various reviews, and a CHEA observer made a site visit to the September 2011 COE meeting at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill. The observer filed a report that identified no deficiencies. This past November, the CHEA Review Committee held a public meeting to review the evidence and hear testimony from the council chair and senior staff support. In January, the CHEA board approved the Review Committee's decision to continue recognizing the COE.

Offsetting recent criticism

The CHEA recognition comes at a time when some have leveled criticism at the council, something Dr. Granstrom attributes largely to a lack of familiarity with higher education accreditation in the U.S.

"The COE doesn't operate in a vacuum," he said. "There are hard-and-fast rules and expectations that must be followed to become and to remain a recognized accrediting agency in the U.S. The COE is no less conscientious or effective today than it was 60 or 20 years ago. In fact, it is far more rigorous, based on the significant advancements made in accreditation practices and accountability over the last 10 years."

In 2002, the council introduced a new accreditation standard, Standard 11, which placed much greater emphasis on outcomes assessment. This was done in accordance with DOE and CHEA requirements to focus attention not only on the educational process but also on student achievement. Since then, accredited colleges must demonstrate that each student has achieved clinical competence in nine areas specified by the COE, and must survey alumni and employers regarding the clinical competence of graduates. (See related letter and staff response on page 805.)

Colleges must address curricular deficiencies identified during the accreditation process within two years. They are also required to report their progress toward correcting curricular deficiencies annually, or more often if deemed necessary. Through a strong focus on outcomes assessment, accreditation ensures that colleges maintain compliance with a published set of quality standards and remain on a path of continuous quality improvement.

"There is a reason our colleges are among the best in the world," Dr. Granstrom said. "I'm extremely proud of the role the COE has played in that process and of the AVMA for supporting the council without interference."