For those who just want to know what to do about the COE right now, jump to Part 6. True dorks should start with the Council on Higher Education Accreditation's imaginatively titled CHEA Overview of US Accreditation.
For those who want the rest of the story:
Accreditation is applied to ALL schools. All of them. Medicine, law, engineering, liberal arts, graduate, undergrad, vocational, plumbing, hair dressing, auto mechanic... every field of endeavor that has training programs has an accreditory body, some group of volunteers responsible for making sure the training programs in that field do a good job.
An accreditor is recognized by the US Dept of Education if it meets certain criteria.
Accreditation by a recognized US Department of Education accreditor means a school's students can get federal student loans to attend.
For those who feel they don't know enough about accreditation, Part 2:
Accreditation has been vital in the US for over a century. Lack of effective accreditation is prominently featured in the Flexner Report, a 1910 publication commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation. The Flexner Report revolutionized US medical education in much the same way that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle had revolutionized the meat industry just four years before. The Jungle led directly to the creation of the FDA and meat inspection as we now know it. Likewise, the Flexner Report led to the structure of safe, effective medical education in medicine as we have enjoyed it for the past hundred years.
The US Dept of Education got concerned with accreditation with the GI Bill. It wanted to make sure all those returning soldiers were getting a good education for the money the government was giving schools in their behalf.
Then the tech bubble burst, then banking, then housing... then the recession hit. The professional profiteers realized that there was a huge demand for education coupled with a limitless flow of federal money with no strings attached. Borrowers could not be denied, and would be loaned as much money as the school told the government to loan them... but the money would go to the school and the debt would go to the student.
The education bubble began to blow up. Higher education whether public, private, for profit or not, is no longer about education at all, or bettering the student or investing in society. It's about directing the flow of billions of dollars to lenders, loan servicers, federal and school administrative employees and companies that provide related financial aid administration support services.
Starting about 2008, the federal government started noticing.
For those who feel they don't know enough about accreditation, Part 3:
Caution: history content!
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education (COE) has been the recognized accreditor for veterinary medicine since 1952. Each accreditor is reviewed by the US Dept of Education every five years for compliance with the criteria. The specific agency that does the reviews is NACIQI, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. The committee was first formed (as the NACAIE) by the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the student loan program. The HEA has been amended several times, most recently in 2008, when the government started being very concerned about the proliferation of substandard schools where students were getting rooked.
The New York Times began calling on the government in 2012 to fulfill its obligation to protect students from ineffective schools, and protect taxpayers form having federal student loan funds wasted. The way the government can do this is through accreditors.
And the only way the federal government can change the behaviour of an accreditor is if that accreditor doesn't meet the USDE criteria.
For those who feel they don't know enough about accreditation, Part 4:
Trust me, you still don't. The really critical stuff is in this part, and the next one. NACIQI reviewed COE as scheduled in 2012; it was found to have failed to meet some specific criteria, and some that many accreditors were asked to meet differently- including the LCME, the accreditor for human medical education.
Remember in part 2, I said the federal government started noticing national student loan debt about 2008? Well, the HEOA of 2008 changed the accreditation environment, and all accreditors started getting their chains yanked. So much money had been loaned without any return on investment that now the whole country's economy was endangered. The accreditation environment is under pressure to become much more outcomes oriented. This is however actually really bad, because we have come to measure the wrong outcomes, or measure them inaccurately. Now, instead of freedom to develop critical thinkers with a good grasp of foundational principles, schools have to prove each student got to see a certain number of each species, perform a certain number of specific technical tasks.
Talk about checking off boxes...
Guess what? No one is going to pay me enough for doing tech work to pay off my student loan. The schools are off the rails.
For those who feel they don't know enough about accreditation, Part 5:
The profession is off the rails. The country is off the rails. Accrediting new, more and different schools in vet med did not cause this.
It can fix it.
By recognizing that our education is the basis for everything we do, that it gives us the value we offer to society- the value that justifies investing in us and in our educational infrastructure. That value does not- never did- lie in taking care of cats and dogs; that's just what we got paid for thee past few decades. We got paid a lot, and that clouds our perception.
We have value to society out of all proportion to our number; the scientific efforts of our small and thinly spread profession span the globe, in a way human medicine never will- and never will need to. What we do crosses political boundaries, crosses geographic boundaries, crosses interdiscipinary boundaries, crosses cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. Our ability to integrate that range of content, synthesize knowledge across such disparate fields and act across those lines- that is our value.
And we can only do that because of the education we (used to) get.
Because our education is so important we need every school to be good, no matter where it is located, how big it is, how much or little it charges. No matter what kind of shape the rest of the profession is in, every school has to be good.
We make sure a school is good through accreditation.
For those who feel they don't know enough about accreditation, Part 6:
After this, you will.
Given the current state of disarray in every other segment of the profession, especially practice, we need to ensure that at least our schools are held accountable for meeting high standards that we all agree on.
Accreditation is too important to let it be a pawn in professional politics. It is the mechanism that can hold the schools accountable in a way no individual stakeholder group can. It is the mechanism which can protect schools from becoming dollar driven diploma mills in response to the recession and the loss of state funding and the collective lack of vision the profession has exhibited over the past 30 years.
So protected, our schools can then be the engine that creates our value for society, through the cultivation of scientists ready to apply a broad, deep knowledge of basic science principles to the specific situations they encounter where people, animals and the environment intersect.
We must have an accrediting body that is fiscally and operationally autonomous yet constitutionally interdependent with all stakeholder groups, within and without veterinary medicine.
This will require that COE's recognition be revoked, pending formation of such an autonomous body. This can be accomplished by submitting written comments to NACIQI that you do not agree with COE's decisions.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to do that.
Interested in connecting with other veterinarians on the forefront of this topic? Message Eden Myers or Ryan Gates on Facebook to join Under the Microscope: Professional Issues in Veterinary Medicine