Tusculum media campaign prompts AOA insistence on accreditation standards

May 17, 2018
Concerned about program standards? Submit comments to ACOE by June 6, 2018.
Tusculum accreditation standards

Reports of a proposed optometric program in rural eastern Tennessee coupled with recent, lower than expected licensing exam results prompts AOA's urgent call for full adherence to the profession's recognized institutional accreditation requirements.

Only weeks after the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) and Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) jointly released 2016-17 academic year pass rates for the national licensing examination that showed several programs lagging below 90%, a new optometric doctoral program announced it would enroll its first students in 2020 pending accreditation. That would bring the total number of proposed optometric degree programs, or those already in development, to more than a dozen in the immediate future amid data showing a general, declining trend in licensing exam pass rates in recent years.

In seeking thorough and immediate inquiry, AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., in a May 1 letter co-signed by AOA's Board of Trustees and sent to the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE), stated, "we have become aware of a number of public claims being put forward by those involved with the potential establishment of a school connected to Tusculum College. We note that this is the fourth new school recently proposed in the same part of the southeastern United States, and this development again brings to the fore the same questions we raised in our January 18 letter about the ability of schools of optometry to continue to attract enough qualified faculty and students, and to provide adequate clinical opportunities to students when so many programs are clustered in one, relatively lightly populated area."

Dr. Quinn continues: "While we continue to recognize that each program must be judged on its own merits, and that the number of potentially qualified applicants and faculty is subject to change, the recent experience of other professions, such as law, suggests that a rapid increase in programs can lead to a decline in educational and career outcomes."

The letter further reinforces AOA's continued support for ACOE Professional Optometric Degree (POD) Standards that maintain and produce high-quality, exceptional doctors of optometry, and stresses that it is essential from the outset of program reviews "to ensure every aspect of the position of public trust that the profession occupies is faithfully and forcefully upheld." The alternative could hurt the profession, the public and students who may acquire significant debt without the ability to complete a program or pass licensing exams upon graduation.

"We again recognize and thank the ACOE for its unwavering dedication to its mission, as well as its diligence in the development and application of standards for the optometric educational enterprise," Dr. Quinn concludes.

AOA's vested interest in optometric education

Earlier in January 2018, Dr. Quinn and AOA's Board of Trustees sent ACOE an initial letter expressing concern over the just-released NBEO and ACOE licensing examination results that showed seven schools' pass rates below 90%, and two less than 75%. Separately, NBEO's own data through March 2016 showed a variable pass rate for Part 1 of the exam with a declining trend in recent years, while an August 2017 test produced pass rates lower than those in previous years.

The AOA took this into consideration when it underscored several POD standards that all schools and programs—new and old—must meet in order to maintain the standard of excellence expected of the profession, including:

  • The ability of programs to ensure at least 80% of entering students pass all three parts of the NBEO exam, or otherwise obtain a license within within six years following initial matriculation.
  • The continued high quality of the student applicant pool, and its ability to master the clinical competencies expected of the profession.
  • The ability to recruit qualified faculty.

That letter, sent Jan. 29, arrived prior to ACOE's Winter Meeting, Feb. 9-11, where the organization accepted proposed changes to standards for POD programs seeking preliminary approval pre-accreditation status for distribution and comment. These proposed changes are necessary for POD preliminary approval standards, ACOE notes, following its adoption of new standards for POD programs in 2016.

At that time, AOA weighed in with h2, detailed commentary to ACOE during its comment period for revised POD standards, and applauded ACOE's upholding of POD standards that ultimately took effect July 1, 2017. The ACOE noted that in approving new POD program standards, there created a necessity to bring POD preliminary approval standards—put into place in 2014—in agreement. Therefore, the ACOE's POD Committee drafted proposed changes that are now available for public comment through June 6, 2018.

Register your concerns during ACOE public comment period

The AOA encourages interested doctors of optometry to join AOA in submitting comments to ACOE on these proposed changes, which will help ensure all schools—new or existing—are held to the same accreditation standards so that future generations of doctors are of the same caliber and quality that optometry expects and patients deserve. 

Read more about the ACOE's accreditation process for POD programs.

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