In a move that has caught practitioners, students and state officials by surprise, the Dallas College of Oriental Medicine (DCOM) officially closed its doors Friday, Jan. 7. The closing appears to be related to an opinion issued last year by the Texas Attorney General's Office, which put the degree-granting status of acupuncture schools in the hands of the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board. According to DCOM President Mark Hanson, DC, LAc, the coordinating board had required the college to hire more full-time faculty members, leading to financial difficulties that eventually forced the school to shut its doors.
"I have run out of money," said Dr. Hanson, in a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "All of these regulations made things much tighter."
A message on the college's answering machine, accessed Jan. 12, 2005, stated that the college was closed, but did not provide any further information. Visits to the college's Web site on Jan. 12 and Jan. 18 showed no mention of the closure.
Established by Stuart Mauro, LAc, OMD, in 1991, the college was originally known as the Third Coast Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and was developed with two goals in mind: producing an exceptional program of study in Oriental medicine, and providing affordable health care for residents in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. It was purchased by Dr. Hanson in April 1996, and renamed the Dallas Institute of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in September 1997. In November 2001, the institute changed its name once again, this time to the Dallas College of Oriental Medicine.
In May 1999, the college became a candidate for accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. It soon established a reputation as having one of the best clinical training components of any Oriental medicine school in the country. In 2000, and again in 2002, the college was honored as one of three schools to receive an "Outstanding Clinical Training" award from the TCM World Foundation. Its Oriental medicine program received full ACAOM accreditation in May 2001.
Legal Ruling May Have Contributed to Closure
In August 2003, Donald Brown, the commissioner of higher education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), submitted a letter to Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, for a clarification regarding the state's Education Code. At issue was whether schools of acupuncture in Texas were subject to THECB regulation, or whether they met any requirements that would exempt them from regulation.
While the Texas Education Code empowers the THECB to regulate certain types of postsecondary educational institutions, acupuncture schools would have been exempted from THECB regulation, provided they met one of two criteria. The first exemption would apply if an institution was found to be "fully accredited by a recognized accrediting agency." A review found that while all of the acupuncture schools in Texas are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), the commission itself was not recognized as an accrediting agency by the THECB. In fact, the THECB does not recognize accrediting agencies for any health professions, including medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy. The only national accrediting agencies the THECB does recognize are the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
The second exemption applied to institutions or degree programs that had received approval from a state agency, authorizing the institution's graduates to take a professional or vocational licensing exam administered by that state agency. In Texas, acupuncture licensing exams are administered by the Texas State Board of Acupuncture Examiners (TSBAE). However, the exemption also stated that "the granting of permission by a state agency to a graduate of an institution to take a licensing examination does not by itself constitute approval of the institution or degree program required for an exemption." In other words, for the exemption to apply to an acupuncture school in Texas, the board of acupuncture examiners would have to not only allow graduates to take its licensing exam, but to also be authorized to approve the institution or degree program.
A review of the state Occupations Code revealed that the TSBAE "does not have independent rulemaking authority." The attorney general's office also found that while the TSBAE is responsible for establishing minimum education and training requirements necessary for licensure, this requirement alone would not constitute the authority of the TSBAE to approve an institution or degree program.
Based on this analysis, in February 2004, Attorney General Abbott ruled that schools of acupuncture "are subject to regulation by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board." and that they could not award degrees without the board's approval.
On March 1, 2004, the THECB sent a letter to DCOM and three other acupuncture schools in Texas, advising them of the attorney general's decision. The board also advised the schools that they could apply to the THECB to receive a certificate of authority via the board's Certification Advisory Council.
To receive a certificate of authority, an institution would have to demonstrate compliance with 21 standards. During a quarterly board meeting in October 2004, the THECB presented its review of DCOM's application for a certificate of authority, and found that the college failed to meet eight of the 21 standards, including faculty qualifications, faculty size, academic freedom and faculty security.
Although the board granted DCOM additional time to demonstrate that it could meet the standards necessary to award degrees, and was scheduled to receive a revised application from the college at its next meeting, Hanson told the Star-Telegram that he was not financially able to hire all of the full-time faculty members the THECB required, leaving him with little choice but to close the school.
"Their standards were quite expensive, and we are a small school," Dr. Hanson explained. "There are a lot of things that are just going to be very difficult for us to do because of the size of the school that we are. I've lost everything that I put into it. It's hundreds of thousands of dollars of my money that is gone."
A THECB representative said he was surprised that the school closed.
"I don't know on what basis they decided they could not afford it," David Linkletter, a program specialist for the coordinating board, said in January. "Up until just a few days ago, my understanding was that they were working on meeting those standards."
ACAOM, CCAOM Comment
Upon hearing of the school's closing, Acupuncture Today contacted ACAOM and the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to comment on the situation. While the Council stated that as a matter of policy, it does not comment on the closure of acupuncture schools, Acupuncture Today received the following statement from ACAOM Executive Commissioner Dort Bigg:
Dallas College of Oriental Medicine closed because it did not have adequate revenue to meet operational expenses. The school was last reviewed by the commission at its spring 2004 meeting, and based on a number of areas in which the program failed to demonstrate compliance with ACAOM's accreditation standards, including ACAOM's standards governing fiscal stability, the commission deferred action on reaccreditation, with the requirement that Dallas College submit an interim report in January addressing is remediation of the deficiencies identified by the commission and submit to a full site visit in early spring 2005 for consideration of the school's accreditation status at ACAOM's spring 2005 meeting. The commission's action letter reflecting this decision indicated that if the program failed to satisfactorily address the commission's findings, ACAOM would take adverse action against the program at our spring 2005 meeting.
Whenever a school closes, ACAOM's foremost interest is in ensuring that students enrolled at the time of closure be afforded every opportunity to complete their training and have access to certifiable transcripts. We seek to ensure that a program's closing is accomplished with a minimal disruption to both the students and the community the program has served. Following the Dallas College's decision to close, commission staff have fielded questions of students regarding their options, and coordinated the assistance of David Linkletter, the executive director of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board; representatives of another Texas college that expressed an interest in exploring the development of a "teach-out" program to allow Dallas students to complete their education; and representatives of the Texas Acupuncture Board. This team is actively working to develop viable options to permit Dallas College students to complete their educations, including the possible development of a teach-out program offered by another accredited program to permit students to finish their training.
Mcgee P. Oriental medicine college closes. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jan. 12, 2005.
Mcgee P. Degree ruling is put on hold. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 30, 2004.
Agenda item VII-D. Consideration of requests from four private postsecondary institutions offering degree programs in acupuncture and Oriental medicine for certificates of authority to grant degrees in Texas. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board quarterly meeting, October 2004. Available online at www.thecb.state.tx.us.
Dallas College of Oriental Medicine Web site (www.dallascom.org). Accessed Jan. 12, 2005 and Jan. 18, 2005.
E-mail from Dort Bigg to Acupuncture Today, Jan. 12, 2005.
Memorandum from Marshall Hill, assistant commissioner, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Oct. 27, 2004.
Opinion No. GA-0144. Published by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (www.oag.state.tx.us), Feb. 5, 2004.