AG Greg Abbott Says Its Okay For Caribbean Med Students to Come to Texas

Earlier this year it came to light that DeVry, the Illinois-based tech school giant, wanted some students from its Caribbean medical school to complete their training in Texas. The plan was modest, a maximum of 20 students from DeVry's American University of the Caribbean placed in Texas hospitals for third- and fourth-year clinical rotations, but it inspired considerable push-back.

Lawmakers and officials at Texas' existing medical schools argued that such clerkships are already scarce and that opening them to students from an outside school would deprive Texas students of training opportunities. Underlying this was the suspicion that a medical school that operates out of the Caribbean must be a haven for American med school rejects that couldn't pass muster in the U.S.

Those concerns prompted the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to wonder if it could legally grant a certificate of authority for a foreign medical school to operate on Texas soil. In July, they asked Attorney General Greg Abbott to weigh in.

Abbott delivered his opinion yesterday, concluding that state law "gives the Board discretion to grant or deny a certificate of authority to a foreign medical school that otherwise satisfies the statutory and regulatory criteria for issuance of a certificate."

In other words, he split the baby. On the one hand, there is nothing in the law that says the THECB can't allow a foreign medical school to operate in Texas, so long as it meets the board's standards. On the other hand, the board's authority is discretionary, meaning it can grant or deny applications as it damn well pleases. Some, according to Abbott's opinion, have urged the THECB to hold off on making a decision until the legislature convenes and considers whether it's wise to allow foreign medical schools to operate in Texas. The board can do that, too, if it wants, Abbott ruled.

All of this puts things exactly where they were four-and-a-half months ago, when the THECB asked for the opinion. Dominic Chavez, a spokesman for the board, said the agency is still reviewing Abbott's opinion "to assess impacts."

"From a technical standpoint, this agenda item remains at the Board since the item was officially postponed and the opinion sought," Chavez wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. "The full Board does not meet again until the end of January which would be soonest any action could be taken."

Update at 11:34 a.m.: DeVry passed along a statement responding to Abbott's ruling:

The Attorney General's opinion clarifies the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board's authority in regards to international medical schools. We look forward to the Board's ultimate decision regarding the American University of the Caribbean Medical School's request to enable Texas resident students the opportunity to complete 3rd and 4th year clinical clerkships back in their home state of Texas.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson