UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20202
In the Matter of
Docket No. 97-156-EA
ESCUELA AUTONOMA DE CIENCIAS MEDICAS
DE CENTRO AMERICA,
Appearances: Silvia Pacheco A., Esq., Facio & Canas, San José, Costa Rica , for Respondent.
U.S. students enrolled in a foreign medical school may receive FFELs if the medical
school meets the accreditation standards of the country in which the school is located, and those
standards are comparable to the accreditation standards applied to medical schools in the United
States, or the foreign medical school is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency
approved by the Secretary of Education. The determination as to whether the accreditation
standards for a foreign county are comparable with those applied to medical school in the United
States is made by the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation
(NCFMEA), a panel of experts appointed by the Secretary of Education. See 34 C.F.R.
§ 600.55(a)(4)(i) (1997). On July 21, 1997, NCFMEA determined that Costa Rica did not have
accreditation standards comparable with those in the United States. Since Respondent is not
accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency approved by the Secretary, SFAP
determined that Respondent was no longer eligible to participate in the FFEL program, imposed
the emergency action, and notified Respondent of its intent to terminate its participation in the
Title IV programs.
NCFMEA made its decision of non-comparability based on a lack of information from
the Costa Rican government, apparently because the request for the information was addressed to
Mr. Rodolfo Silva, Minister of Health, who is actually the Minister of Transportation. The
necessary information has now been provided to NCFMEA which will meet, according to its
Acting Executive Director, on March 12, 1998, and reconsider its determination concerning
Costa Rica. At the request of the parties, the termination proceeding, which is before
Administrative Judge Richard O'Hair, has been continued pending the outcome of the
NCFMEA's meeting on March 12, 1998.
SFAP argues that Respondent does not meet the definition of an institution of higher
education under the Higher Education Act because of the determination by NCFMEA and that its
students are not eligible for funds under Title IV and that I lack any authority to substitute my
judgement for that of NCFMEA. Respondent argues that the determination is a mistake and that
the necessary information for NCFMEA to make a determination on the merits, rather than on
the basis of a lack of information, has now been provided to NCFMEA. Given that NCFMEA is
scheduled to reconsider its determination concerning Costa Rica in the next several weeks, and
that the emergency action does not have an immediate effect on students who were receiving
FFELs when the emergency action was imposed, at this point the emergency action has little
impact. If NCFMEA decides that the accreditation standards for Costa Rico are comparable to
those of the United States, then SFAP will have to dismiss the termination proceeding and lift the
emergency action. On the other hand, if NCFMEA decides to affirm its earlier determination of
non-comparability, then Judge O'Hair will have little discretion but to order termination. Given
the apparent lack of authority and expertise by this tribunal to make any substantive
determination concerning comparability of accreditation standards, the present limited impact of
the emergency action, and the fact that NCFMEA will soon reconsider its earlier decision, I
conclude that the risk of possible loss of Federal funds, although slight, outweighs the
importance of awaiting the completion of the termination proceeding. See 34 C.F.R. § 668.83
(1997). The Emergency Action will remain in place.
|Date: February 27, 1998||Frank K. Krueger, Jr.
A copy of the attached decision was sent by FAX and certified mail to the following:
Silvia Pacheco A., Esq.
Bufete, Facio & Cañas
San José, Costa Rico
Howard Sorensen, Esq.
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-2110