New federal regulations affect accreditors
Council on Education policy on due process, appeals revised
Federal regulatory changes by the Department of Education, which go into effect July 1, are having an impact on how accrediting bodies, including the AVMA Council on Education, conduct business.
Congress renewed the Higher Education Opportunities Act in August 2008. However, two rounds of negotiated rule making ensued, and the DOE didn't issue its initial guidance on and interpretations of its new regulations until January 2009, with a deadline of July 1, 2010, for implementation.
In late May, the council examined and revised its Accreditation Policies and Procedures manual in eight areas to comply with new language introduced during reauthorization of the act. Amendments to the manual were made with the assistance of AVMA staff and input from an attorney who specializes in accreditation law. The changes became effective immediately.
"We have discussed each change and the implications each change might have on our working procedures, and went through our usual parliamentary process to vote on acceptance of each change," said Dr. Laurie A. Jaeger, COE chair.
Some of the changes were substantive—such as modifications to the appeals process—whereas others merely added clarity and consistency to policy wording. The new policy wording can be found at www.avma.org/education/cvea/coe_pp.asp.
Among the most important changes are that now, in the event of an adverse accreditation decision, the council will provide the public with a summary of reasons for the decision in conjunction with official comments from the program or, at least, evidence that the program was given an opportunity to comment by the COE.
Accrediting bodies also are being asked to monitor institutions' growth on an annual basis. Enrollment is something the AVMA council has always monitored—including how many students are accepted into each class and the attrition rate—through its review of institutions' annual interim reports and self-study documents.
To comply with the new guidelines, the COE simply specified the magnitude of the enrollment change about which it would be concerned: a decrease in enrollment of 10 percent or more. Even though the change does not substantially affect operating procedures, it provides more specific guidance to administrators at veterinary schools and colleges, Dr. Jaeger said.
The biggest revisions made by the COE to comply with the new federal regulations relate to the due process afforded to institutions being evaluated for accreditation and the structure of the appeals process.
Before, when the COE made an adverse accreditation decision, it would send information to the institution about identified deficiencies at the same time it notified the institution of the decision.
Now, the council will provide the institution with an opportunity to submit a written response regarding any deficiencies identified by the site team. This response will be considered by the council before it takes any action.
If the COE makes an adverse decision and the institution files an appeal, the program can now seek COE review of new financial information that was not available at the time the decision was made. However, this new policy applies only if the information has a substantial bearing on the deficiencies identified and if finances represented the only reason for the adverse accreditation decision. Additionally, the program's legal counsel now has an opportunity to make a presentation during the appeal.
The Higher Education Opportunities Act regulations have also caused the COE to adjust the way the appeals panel is formed.
From now on, the appeals panel will consist of seven individuals rather than five. Other policy changes made to ensure the council is in federal compliance are that the panel will include veterinary educators, practitioners, and a public member and that additional training will be provided to panel members.
Dr. Jaeger said these modifications are "really just explicit statements of what probably would have been done anyway in order to assemble a balanced, unbiased, and qualified panel."
Under the new regulations, the appeals panel will have the authority to affirm, amend, or reverse an adverse accreditation decision by the council. This new policy contrasts with the previous COE policy that stated the panel could either affirm the decision or recommend that the council reconsider.
The council's amended policies and procedures will be applied to foreign and domestic schools across the board, in keeping with the requirements for continued recognition by the DOE and Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Dr. Jaeger said this includes the council's earlier accreditation decision regarding the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México Facultad de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia and the subsequent appeal filed by the school in March (see JAVMA, May 15, 2010, page 1033).
In accordance with the changes made to comply with DOE guidelines, the council was required to vacate its earlier decision so that UNAM could respond in writing to each deficiency noted in the report of evaluation prior to the accreditation decision. The council will consider the anticipated response from UNAM at its next meeting Sept. 19-21 at AVMA headquarters.