Margaret V. Root Kustritz1, Karen Martens Brandt2 and Malathi Raghavan3
1College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, USA
2American Veterinary Medical Association, USA
3College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University, USA
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education (COE) is the United States Department of Education (USDE) recognized accrediting body for veterinary medical education programs. The COE is the only accreditor for veterinary medical education programs in the United States and Canada. This chapter describes the composition and processes of the COE and touches briefly on foreign accrediting bodies and processes. Throughout the chapter, the terms “college” or “school” will be used interchangeably to designate colleges or schools of veterinary medicine, and the term “DVM” will be used to refer to any program granting a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or equivalent degree, such as VMD or BVSc.
Accreditation may be defined as a recognition status granted to an educational institution (institutional accreditation) or college or school within an institution or an educational program (specialized accreditation) that maintains suitable standards of education. One goal of accreditation is “educational improvement through enforcement of quality educational practices” (Simmons, 2004, p. 89).
Accreditation of higher education institutions or educational programs assures the quality of institutions and programs. An accreditation system differs from an internal review system, as the accreditor protects the interests of the public, universities who accept course work in transfer from other institutions, licensing authorities, employers, and students, by assuring that educational programs meet acceptable levels of quality delivery of curriculum, learning, and student outcomes. In the United States, federal and state governments rely on the accreditation status ofinstitutions to determine whether they are eligible to receive grants and loans. For example, in order for institutions to be eligible to receive Title IV student loans and scholarships and/or Health Professions Student Loans, they must be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the USDE as a reliable authority on the quality of education provided by the institution or program (Schray, 2006).
The task of American accreditation agencies, whether national, regional, or specialized, is to identify and develop quality standards, determine whether institutions and programs meet these standards, and foster a process for continuous quality improvement. In the United States, accreditors may be recognized by the USDE and may also choose to be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nongovernmental agency (Schray, 2006).
According to the standards established by the USDE, every recognized accrediting organization must demonstrate that it has an accreditation process that effectively addresses the quality of institutions or programs in several areas, including successful student achievement; curricula; faculty; facilities, equipment, supplies; fiscal and administrative capacity; student support services; recruiting and admission practices; hard-copy and electronic communications; program specifics; student complaints; and compliance under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.
The process of accreditation of the institution by the accrediting organization usually involves institutional self-study, peer review, site visits, a status decision by the organization, and specified monitoring and oversight throughout the accreditation cycle. Three major issues stimulating reform in the higher education accreditation system in the United States are the accountability of the accreditation system, support for innovation in education delivery, and the consistency of accreditation standards and processes across different accrediting organizations, to allow for greater transparency across different accrediting institutions (Schray, 2006).
Specialized accreditation follows the same process; however, the accreditation standards are focused on the specific profession or area of study, and are developed with input from the profession and other stakeholders. Although accreditation status is voluntarily sought by veterinary medical educational programs, accreditation by an accrediting agency acceptable to the veterinary statutory body (VSB), which oversees the quality and competence of veterinarians in a particular country, is required for eligibility for licensure in the United States and Canada. The same cannot be said of accreditation systems of educational institutions in different regions of the world.
In the field of human medical education, there is wide variability in the prevalence of national accrediting bodies by region, ranging from 20% in Africa to 75% in Southeast Asia (WHO-WFME, 2005). This variability is expected to be wider in veterinary medical education. For example, in the United States and Canada, the AVMA COE is recognized as an accreditor of veterinary medical education programs by state and provincial VSBs; the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and its accrediting body has statutory authority to accredit veterinary medical educational programs in the United Kingdom; and the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) and its accrediting agency have statutory authority to accredit veterinary medical educational programs in Australia and New Zealand. The European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), through the European System of Evaluation and Training (ESEVT), have a system of evaluation for veterinary medical educational programs in Europe. The decision-making body for this system, the European Committee of Veterinary Education (ECOVE), is an independent entity whose office operates under the umbrella of the EAEVE. This system does not have ties to a VSB. Other nations have implemented or are in the process of implementing systems to evaluate or accredit veterinary medical educational programs. Examples include the Accreditation and Recognition of Veterinary School Qualifications & Accreditations Committee of the Malaysian Veterinary Council, the Accreditation Board for Veterinary Education in Korea (ABOVE-K), and El Consejo Nacional de Educación de la Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia in Mexico (CONEVET).
A number of nations have not yet implemented any sort of evaluation or accreditation system. This is unfortunate, since accreditation enhances the improvement of educational processes and could lead to quality, state-of the-art education throughout the world. In practice, even in world regions where accreditation systems exist, standards and processes vary in intent, procedural complexity, transparency, accountability, and consequences of the evaluation (Zarco, 2009; van Zanten et al., 2008; ECFMG, 2010). It is for this reason that, in medical education at least, there is a move toward the evaluation and recognition of accrediting bodies by a single international agency using globally accepted criteria, in the aim that this would create a meaningful system of international accreditation (ECFMG, 2010). We are a long way from implementation of any sort of truly international accreditation in veterinary medicine.
The first European veterinary school was established in France in 1761. In the United States, 34 veterinary colleges were opened between 1854 and 1900. These early colleges struggled to survive due to inadequately trained faculty, a lack of committed students, poor admission standards, and unethical behavior, such that 19 of them closed (Banasiak, 2012). The lack of standardization of education between the early colleges and the inconsistent quality of the diplomas that were conferred played a role in the formation of the standing Committee on Intelligence and Education (CIE) within the United States Veterinary Medical Association (USVMA) in the late 1800s. The CIE would eventually evolve into the current COE (AVMA, 2014).
A major milestone in America’s journey to a quality veterinary professional education system was the creation of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at the beginning of the twentieth century. The federal bureau became a major employer of veterinarians, and only graduates of a bureau-acceptable veterinary school could sit for the civil service examination required for BAI employment (Banasiak, 2012). Whether or not a school was acceptable by BAI standards was determined by a committee, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture and consisting of representatives of the BAI, the Association of Veterinary Faculties of North America that was formed in 1894, and the AVMA (the USVMA underwent a name change in 1898). A bureau-acceptable veterinary school had to comply with a series of prescriptive recommendations in order to remain on the acceptable list. The recommendations included stipulations about length of study, minimum number of instructional days in a year, minimum number of teaching/contact hours, the nature of the curriculum, and the textbooks to be used. The bureau even maintained a file on each student. However, the CIE became increasingly concerned that the bureau’s rigid curriculum requirements and faculty standards also harbored a disregard for sound teaching principles (Banasiak, 2012).
In 1921, the AVMA adopted minimum standards of education called the Essentials of an Approved Veterinary College, which specified requirements such as minimum number of major departments and veterinary leadership and administration. These essentials were the beginnings of the modern COE standards of accreditation. An amendment to the AVMA Bylaws in 1928 officially terminated the CIE and created a new five-member Committee on Education. At least three members had to be faculty members representing different colleges. School acceptance took place through questionnaires; visits to the colleges by members of this group did not take place until the late 1940s. In 1946, the AVMA restructured the Committee on Education and replaced it with a nine-member Council on Education. Since then, the essentials have been revised and developed into the COE standards of accreditation (AVMA, 2014).
After World War II, veterinary colleges found it a burden to be accredited by both the USDA, then the largest accreditor, and the COE (Banasiak, personal communication). The United States Army also was compiling a list of accredited schools (Banasiak, personal communication). Efforts by the National Council on Accrediting (NCA) and the GI Bill of 1952 (the Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1952) allowed the COE to be on a list of regional and specialized accrediting associations recognized by the military. In 1956, the NCA recognized the AVMA COE as its official accrediting association for veterinarians (UBSA 1967), but USDA relinquished its accrediting activities only after veterinary colleges and the Association of Deans of American Colleges of Veterinary Medicine recommended that it do so, in 1961 (Banasiak, personal communication).
The AVMA COE was included on the first list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies by the USDE in 1952. In addition to recognition by the USDE, the COE also earned the recognition of the CHEA, which it has maintained since 1949 (AVMA, 2015a). The CHEA is a nongovernmental organization that sets recognition standards that agencies must meet to be awarded recognition. CHEA recognition has three purposes: the advancement of academic quality; demonstration of accountability by agencies; and assurance that agencies have standards that encourage institutions to review, plan, and implement change as needed (CHEA, 2010). The COE seeks renewal of recognition by the USDE every five years and by the CHEA every ten years. Recognition by the USDE and CHEA is voluntary.
In 1973, the COE first granted accreditation to a school outside of North America, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the State University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. As of 2014, the COE has accredited 49 schools in total, 14 of which are located outside of the United States and Canada (AVMA, 2015b). Liaison and/or advisory relationships are also held by COE members with committees overseeing the education and activities of veterinary technology programs in North America, credentialing of graduates of foreign veterinary medical colleges, and licensing examinations (AVMA, 2015b).
All COE-accredited colleges of veterinary medicine must be a part of an institution of higher learning accredited by an organization recognized for that purpose by its country’s government. In the United States, most institutions of higher learning voluntarily seek institutional accreditation by one of several regional or national accreditors. Institutional accreditation involves a comprehensive review of all institutional functions. It assures the educational community, the general public, and other organizations that an accredited institution has met high standards of quality and effectiveness. A veterinary college may be accredited only when it is a major academic administrative division of the parent institution and is afforded the same recognition, status, and autonomy as other professional colleges in that institution. For example, if a veterinary college seeking AVMA COE accreditation was affiliated with a university that also offered medical, dental, and nursing programs, then the deans of each of those programs should be subject to the same reporting and hierarchical structure as the dean of the veterinary medical program.
The goal of accreditation for the profession is to ensure that all students are offered a veterinary medical education that provides them with the knowledge, critical thinking, and clinical skills to be employed in the occupations that society values and that require veterinary medical training. To be eligible to take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), passing of which is required to practice veterinary medicine in the United States, students must graduate from an AVMA COE–accredited school or have passed the necessary licensing examinations for graduates of nonaccredited schools – Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) or Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Medical Equivalence (PAVE) (ICVA, 2015). Accreditation is not a tool to control market forces. For example, accreditation status is not used to control the number of accredited schools or the number of veterinary students trained in a given country or region. Accreditation is also not used to rank schools for quality. All schools are held to a defined set of standards and are judged only on whether or not they meet that standard, not by how much they may exceed the standard.
The goal of accreditation for a school is to ensure ongoing process improvement. The standards are evaluated and updated regularly to ensure that veterinary medical education is contemporary. Meeting accreditation standards at a given point in time is not a sinecure; schools are required to remain abreast of changes in society and in pedagogy that may alter the standards over time.
The reader is directed to the AVMA Center for Veterinary Education Accreditation (AVMA, 2016) for complete and continuously updated information regarding the processes of accreditation.
Membership of the COE
American members of the COE are chosen by the AVMA and by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). Members are selected to represent the profession and the public, and include representatives from academia and industry; different occupational sectors such as private practice (small animal, equine, food animal, mixed animal), basic science, preventive medicine, and nonprivate, nonacademic veterinary medicine; and research. Public members cannot be affiliated with a veterinarian or veterinary college. Canadian members of the COE are chosen by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and usually are appointed from that country’s National Examining Board. All members of the COE sign confidentiality and conflict-of-interest agreements, which state that they will not divulge private information about specific schools, and will not participate in discussions or voting for institutions where they are or have been employed or with which they have substantial affiliations.
All accreditation processes start with submission by the college of an in-depth report known as a self-study. The self-study follows a prescribed format and is a concise body of documentation by the school regarding how it meets the standards of accreditation. The COE provides review of materials submitted by colleges and provides site teams to visit the college. The goal of the site visit is to verify and supplement information presented in the self-study documents, and to address questions or concerns occasioned by reading of the self-study by members of the site team and the full Council.
Several types of site visits may take place, depending on the stage of development of the veterinary college:
- Consultative site visit. A consultative site visit is a nonbinding review of a developing school in North America or an established school elsewhere in the world, and is described in more detail later in this chapter.
- Comprehensive site visit
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