AUC proposal raises alarm in Texas

POSTED: 07/12/12 12:11 PM

CUPECOY – A proposal by the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) to send some of its students to Texas for clinical training has divided the governing board of that US state’s higher education agency. The Associated Press has been following the story from early June, which has attracted the attention of Texas’ attorney general and provoked legislators to voice their opinion on the proposal.
Leaders of the state’s nine medical schools – eight of them public and one private – and the Texas Medical Association, which represents nearly 45, 000 physicians and medical students, have responded to the AUC’s proposal with alarm.
The Texas Higher Education Board currently restricts foreign medical students from applying for the limited clinical rotations that are available. Only students that would have graduated from a Texas high school are eligible. In addition, they say, the Texas schools could wind up having to pay more to hospitals for additional slots or engaging in a bidding war with the foreign schools, with higher tuition to cover those expenses a likely result.
AUC was bought by DeVry Incorporated in 2011. The new owner’s vision included expanding internship opportunities for its students – the majority of which had been going to the United Kingdom and Ireland for training in times past.
The Dallas Observer quoted Dr. Bruce Kaplan, executive dean and chief academic officer of the AUC as saying “we believe the coordinating board does have authority to do this. We’re hoping that by presenting objective information the proposal will be approved. If they don’t, we look at any and all remedies that may be available.”
Kaplan said he was surprised by the pushback from lawmakers and medical school officials who fear that AUC’s presence in Texas might edge students at Texas medical schools out of scarce clerkships in teaching hospitals.
AUC had been quietly pursuing the proposal for more than a year. The school already places about 90 percent of its students in clerkships at U.S. hospitals in nine states including California, Florida and New York but Kaplan said that some of AUC’s Texas-born students wanted to finish out their medical training closer to home.
Third year medical student at AUC, Zachary Lipowski said he hopes to be able to return to Texas, where he grew up, for some of his clinical training.
“Medical school can be extremely stressful and lonely, and having nearby family support is a medicine all its own,” he said.
On May 26, AUC held a lavish commencement ceremony in Maho for approximately 125 graduates. That same day, DeVry launched its campus expansion project to the tune of $35 million in presence of government officials.
If its proposal is approved, it would be a landmark decision in Texas, making it the first foreign medical school to get a certificate of authority to operate in the state. Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, the board’s top staff member, had recommended granting approval to AUC with eight conditions in order to protect US interests, the Dallas Observer reported.
The university agreed to the conditions which include that no more than 20 students would be allowed to leave St. Maarten and take up clinical rotations in Texas at a time and that the program would be reviewed after two years. Officials of the state’s medical schools and the Texas Medical Association said it would be difficult to ensure that the supply of clerkships would not become constrained. They also argued that granting AUC permission to send students to Texas would inevitably lead to similar initiatives involving other foreign medical schools.
“An influx of students from offshore schools will force us to compete directly with these foreign institutions in negotiating reimbursement rates for the hospitals that partner with us to provide this training,” representatives of the nine Texas schools said in a letter to Paredes.
Later they’d add, “The economic effects that may arise will likely force us to pay substantially more for this limited training space and thus drive up the cost to educate our students.”
The Attorney General is still reviewing the proposal.
AUC was established at Jordan Drive Cupecoy in 1997 after leaving volcano devastated Montserrat. The school has been in operation since 1978 and now boasts of a partnership agreement with the University of St. Martin (USM) where $300, 000 in scholarships will be given out. USM students have up until July 16 to apply for financial consideration at the tertiary institution.

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