What role does accreditor play in protecting students?

Q&A with CVTEA on veterinary-technology program closures

April 11, 2017 (published)
By Edie Lau

Photos courtesy of the AVMA
Laura Lien (left), Rachel Valentine (right) and Julie Horvath (not pictured) serve as AVMA staff contacts for the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities.

When Heritage College closed last fall, it was just one in a series of for-profit vocational schools and programs to shutter in recent years. Among accredited veterinary-technology programs alone, 33 have closed since 2014, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (AVMA CVTEA).

The string of closures raises questions about the role of the CVTEA in ensuring the soundness of programs it accredits, and whether it can be expected to protect or otherwise advocate on behalf of students attending those programs.

As support staff, veterinary technicians perform much of the work of veterinary practice, similar to nurses in human medicine. The CVTEA is the nation’s only accreditor of veterinary-technology programs, which train aspiring veterinary technicians. Completion of a CVTEA-accredited program qualifies aspirants to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination, a credentialing test required by most states.

Abrupt closures such as those at Heritage last fall have left students stranded with lost money, lost time and little guidance on how to pick up the pieces.

Wishing to better understand the role of the accreditor when a program it accredits closes, especially without notice, the VIN News Service submitted questions by email to the AVMA. Responses were provided jointly by Laura Lien and Rachel Valentine, assistant directors in the Education and Research Division; and Julie Horvath, CVTEA accreditation manager.

Question: What does the CVTEA do to assure that programs receiving accreditation are financially sound?

Answer: Standards 1 and 2 of the Policies and Procedures of the CVTEA state:

  1. Institutional Accreditation: An accredited veterinary technology program in the United States must be part of an institution of higher education accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Non-U.S. programs must be part of an institution of higher learning recognized by the appropriate national, provincial, or regional agency with that authority.
  2. Finances Sustainable: financial support must be adequate for the program to attain the educational goals and support its mission.

Institutional accreditors that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education require review of institutional finances during their accreditation procedures.

During CVTEA accreditation site visits, programs are asked to provide three years of institutional and programmatic budgets for review. In addition, financial officers participate in discussions with CVTEA accreditation site teams to discuss financial resources and funding of programs.

Q: In a previous conversation, you stated that 33 CVTEA-accredited programs have closed since 2014. While not every closure may have been driven by financial difficulty, we know that finances were a factor in many of the closures. Could and should the CVTEA be doing more to assure a program is financially sound before conferring accreditation or renewing accreditation?

A: CVTEA is a programmatic accreditor whose goal is to assess the adequacy of financial support provided to the veterinary technology program by the institution. The CVTEA relies on institutional accreditors to assess the financial health of the parent institution.

CVTEA accreditation ... serves to inform the public that the institution provides a quality education and benefits graduates by providing a measure of recognition and enhancing their prospects of employment mobility.

Q: If yes, what could the CVTEA do? For example, could it revise its standards in this area?

If no, should the CVTEA post and highlight a disclaimer to students and would-be students so they are aware that CVTEA accreditation does not assure financial stability of an accredited program?

A: No response provided.

Q: Does the CVTEA perceive the high number of recent closures to be a problem?

A: The Committee is concerned with any closure of a program, regardless of the reason, due to the potential negative impact on students, faculty and the veterinary medical profession as a whole. The demand and supply of veterinary technicians is of interest to the Committee; however, the institution’s ability to create and maintain programs with sufficient fiscal, clinical, and human resources is outside the control of the CVTEA.

The CVTEA not only accredits veterinary technology programs but assists in the development and improvement of these programs.

Q: What accounts for the high number (nearly 200) of accredited veterinary technology programs?

A: There is high demand [for veterinary technicians] as referenced in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports and high turnover rates in the profession.

Q: Over what period of time were the programs accredited?

A: The CVTEA has been accrediting programs since 1973. The number of accredited programs has changed over time. Accredited programs undergo a site visit every five to six years.

Q: Does CVTEA accreditation qualify a program for or in any way influence a program's access to federal financial aid or private educational loans?

A: No.

Q: Has accreditation ever been denied to an applicant?

A: Yes, there are instances where initial accreditation was not granted.  Application for accreditation does not guarantee that initial accreditation will be granted. Unsuccessful programs may reapply for CVTEA accreditation.

Q: How many times in its history has CVTEA denied initial accreditation? What are examples of reasons that initial accreditation has been denied?

A: Staff is not able to provide this information due to confidentiality.

Q: Has accreditation ever been withdrawn for reasons other than the program's closure?

A: Yes.

Q: How many times in its history has CVTEA withdrawn accreditation for reasons other than program closure? What are examples of reasons that accreditation was withdrawn?

A: Staff is not able to provide this information due to confidentiality; however, per CVTEA policies and procedures, accreditation may be withdrawn for the following reasons:

  1. A program has been on probationary accreditation for two years with no significant progress to report.
  2. An institution is voluntarily closing its doors and does not meet the requirements for Terminal Accreditation.
  3. A program at full, initial, and/or administrative probation that have matriculated all existing students.

Q: In light of the pressure on programs to meet the federal gainful employment standard and the recent spate of closures, is the CVTEA considering any actions to help safeguard students from being harmed by future school failures?

A: It is not entirely clear what the impact of the U.S. Department of Education gainful employment rules have on programs or institutions, the implementation of which is currently delayed.

For CVTEA, program closures have not been demonstrated as directly related to only gainful employment rules; the issue appears to be multifaceted. … [I]mprovement of the economy may also be an influence. Decreased enrollments have been experienced at all secondary educational institutions, public and private.

Q: Does the CVTEA have any comment about the impact on students of school closures (regardless of reason for closure)?

A: Abrupt closures are of interest to the CVTEA, as affected students may not be provided an opportunity to complete their education at the institution, causing a delay in reaching their educational and employment goals. Those institutions that appropriately plan for and communicate with CVTEA on plans for voluntary closure are required to report changes immediately and provide a Terminal Accreditation Plan that reports on the program’s ability to continue to comply with all accreditation standards. Terminally Accredited programs are required to report to the Committee every six months until all students have completed the curriculum.

Q: Has the CVTEA had any discussion or does it plan any discussion about the effects of school closures on students?

A: The CVTEA is aware of the situation.

Q: Could the CVTEA prevent or mitigate the effects on students of abrupt school closures through accreditation standards?

A: Current accreditation standards do not address abrupt school closures; however, the Committee may consider changes to policies or procedures if and when determined to be necessary.

Q: Does the CVTEA have any concerns about the high cost of some veterinary technology programs relative to the average incomes of veterinary technicians?

A: Yes.

Q: Is this an issue that the CVTEA can address through accreditation standards?

A: The cost of educational offerings varies by institution. The Department of Education has historically monitored tuition costs versus the ability of students to repay through Gainful Employment rules. The CVTEA policy on Quality Assurance describes the process for review of established standards.

The Committee’s ongoing review of the standards of accreditation results in their evolution based upon changes in the educational and professional community. Requests for modifying the standards may be received from a variety of sources. Two forms of revision are used: the revision of an existing standard to meet evolving educational and professional needs; and developing a new standard in response to changes in contemporary education, or professional needs or processes. Standards may be revised, added or deleted.

Standards are reviewed cyclically every five years. Annually, the Standards Validity and Reliability Subcommittee will review in depth the applicable standards. Each standard will be reviewed for content, clarity, and contemporary need. The subcommittee will recommend revisions of the standards to the full Committee.

Q: Should students interpret CVTEA accreditation as assurance that a program is operating ethically, with care for students’ well-being? Why or why not?

A: The Policies and Procedures of the AVMA CVTEA includes the following information as it relates to integrity and ethical delivery of a program:

Statement On Integrity

To foster ongoing confidence in the specialized accreditation process, both the veterinary technology program and the AVMA CVTEA must be assured that functions assigned to each entity are clearly understood. The following are some of the areas where special efforts must be made to assure integrity of the process:

Integrity – Veterinary Technology Program

The program must present accurate information to the CVTEA for accreditation evaluation, and must allow access to all parts of the operation during the site visit.

The program must refrain from misleading advertisement of the program, and must correct any inaccuracy in a timely manner.

The program must make every effort to protect students. The protection must include, but is not limited to, unbiased grading procedures and access to educational opportunity, scholarships, and student services.

If a program releases information regarding its accreditation status, the information must be correct. Should misinformation be released, the college must correct the information in a timely manner.

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