Dr. George Thomas, D.O. Chairman, Department of Educational Affairs American Osteopathic Association
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Good afternoon. I am George Thomas, D.O., an osteopathic family physician and member of the Board of Trustees of the American Osteopathic Association, which I will refer to as "the AOA". I am currently the Chair of the AOA's Department of Educational Affairs. On behalf of the AOA, which represents 49,000 osteopathic physicians nationwide, I am pleased to testify today on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which I will refer to as "the HEA".
As you may know, the AOA's Bureau of Professional Education is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for colleges of osteopathic medical education in the United States. It was exactly 100 years ago that the AOA began its evaluation of colleges of osteopathic medicine in the United States. Accreditation by the AOA means that a college or school of osteopathic medicine has met or exceeded our standards for educational quality, which include: organization, administration and finance, faculty and instruction, curriculum, student admissions, performance, and evaluation, research and scholarly activities, and facilities. This afternoon I wish to address three areas in my testimony.
First, the AOA believes that the current partnership between the U.S. Department of Education and accrediting agencies such as ours has worked well, and has served to advance the quality of education for the learned professions in the United States. Accordingly, we believe that those elements of the HEA that define this relationship and its role in HEA Title IV programs should be retained. Those elements are the following:
- The current definition of Institution of Higher Education should continue to include the current language that a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association must accredit such entities.
- The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity should continue in its current defined role and authority.
- The current language in the HEA that defines the relationship between the U.S. Secretary of Education and recognized accrediting agencies and associations should be retained.
- Current accreditation eligibility and certification procedures should continue to be used when evaluating institutions of higher education for participation in HEA Title IV programs.
Second, the AOA also believes that membership-based professional organizations have a significant and important role to play in maintaining the current high standards of professional higher education. This role includes providing the accrediting agency for colleges that offer education leading to the first professional degree. Some of the accrediting agencies, such as the AOA Bureau of Professional Education, recognize and accredit freestanding, single-purpose institutions for the purpose of providing professional education. Accordingly, we believe that the section of the Act which permits the waiver of the separate and independent requirement of accrediting agencies or associations should be retained.
Finally, the AOA recognizes that within a single learned profession, the educational missions can differ among the colleges within the profession. Students will make decisions to enroll at one college over another after examining those differences. Therefore, in order to continue to provide a quality education for students, it is essential that a specialized accrediting agency continue to have the flexibility to evaluate its colleges and educational programs across a range of missions that are allowed by that agency's standards. As such, we believe that the evaluation criteria that are required of all accrediting agencies and associations should continue to allow for this flexibility. Thank you for this opportunity to present our views on this important issue.