YSPH awaits reaccreditation, independence from School of Medicine under review
Yale’s Office of Academic Affairs is finishing up the reaccreditation process for the School of Public Health.
Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer
With University officials currently weighing whether the Yale School of Public Health should remain under the financial and administrative purview of the School of Medicine, new data from the school’s reaccreditation process reveals that it has expanded significantly over the last four years.
The School of Public Health reaccreditation is currently pending and follows a seven-year review process that shows a growth in faculty and student population at the school as well as an increase in faculty productivity and teaching quality. The data shows a 105 percent growth in students from the 2017-18 school year to the 2021-22 school year. It also shows a 23 percent increase in faculty and 42 percent increase in staff over the same time frame. The findings come as community members continue to call for SPH’s financial and administrative autonomy from the School of Medicine — a possibility that Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund said University leaders would assess and might “entertain.”
“I was stunned by the results of that review,” Vermund said. “I’m really, really amazed and super proud of the faculty, staff and students and we’ve grown considerably.”
Vermund said that the increase in faculty productivity is “staggering,” with the number of published papers increasing more than two-fold, and that the teaching quality has “improved massively.” Vermund said that in recent years, three SPH faculty members have won top paper of the year for three different journals. Throughout the pandemic, Vermund said that SPH has provided assistance to Connecticut and New Haven, schools and arts organizations in California, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
Vermund noted that in addition to the reaccreditation process, there is an ongoing University evaluation into whether SPH current structure of operating within the medical school should continue. SPH operates under the School of Medicine despite the fact that it is one of the University’s self-supporting schools; associate professor of epidemiology Gregg Gonsalves previously told the News that SPH is the country’s sole public health school that operates under the administration of a medical school.
School community members have expressed concerns that the current structure limits the extent to which SPH can be seen as a leader in public health, and that it means that the school is overseen by medical school administrators who are not trained in public health. The University is currently evaluating the future of this structure, but this evaluation is not related to the re-accreditation process.
“The provost is studying this intensively and will be consulting with the Dean of the School of Medicine,” Vermund said.
One consideration is whether the school can survive financially without the medical school’s aid. Vermund noted that SPH struggled financially in the 2020-21 school year, limiting the financial aid available to its students. Many students were not able to afford to come, he said. Due to these issues, Vermund said that SPH received about $2.5 million in extra funding from the University last year — and also that the School of Medicine “routinely helps” SPH with funding.
“I think he’s just doing his due diligence to assure this is thought and measured,” Vermund said about the Provost’s assessment. “There’s no point in the School of Public Health being independent from the medical school if it doesn’t have the business model to sustain it.”
According to SPH Director of Academic Affairs Mike Honsberger, the Council on Education for Public Health had granted SPH “fully accredited status” until the end of 2021 — which is why the school was just now up for reaccreditation. Vermund said that the reaccreditation process happens every seven years.
Honsberger said that the CEPH visited the school on Sept. 23 and 24, 2021 to meet with SPH community members and gain clarification on any questions they had. Prior to this site review, Honsberger said, the school went through a self-study process in which it reviewed its status for various defined criteria published by the CEPH. SPH drafted responses to each of the criteria, which covered topics ranging from curriculum content to staffing to physical resources.
“The accreditation process requires commitment from administrators, faculty, staff, students and other constituents,” executive director of CEPH Laura Rasar King said. “The council recognizes the efforts of Yale University School of Public Health to make ongoing improvements to ensure that students receive a high-quality education that advances them toward their career goals.”
Honsberger explained in his email statement that SPH convened an ad hoc accreditation advisory committee in 2020 that oversaw the completion of the final self-report, and this committee was composed of faculty, staff, student, alumni and community representatives.
According to Honsberger, SPH currently uses a collection of student evaluations, Education Committee reviews, classroom observations and peer reviews to assess teaching quality.
Vermund explained that this growth of student and faculty population and research has been facilitated by funding to SPH. When he started at SPH in 2017, his goals were supported by a “startup” financial package to enhance strengths and address needs at SPH. He wrote that in addition to assistance to SPH from the University, the school has acquired outside funding from organizations including the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Agency for International Development.
“Reaccreditation is about whether we are managing the curriculum of the school, such that we are approved by the accrediting body, and they know perfectly well our status with the medical school,” Vermund said. “They also know that at the end of the year, if we have a [budget] deficit the medical school will support us.”
Vermund also wrote that SPH has worked on other initiatives that have helped facilitate the progress seen in the reaccreditation data such as focusing on “team science,” gaining program projects and training grants and revitalizing their research centers to communicate and “expand their engagement” across the University.
The School of Public Health was founded in 1915.
Correction, Feb. 9: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the School of Public Health has finished its re-accreditation process. In fact, the process is not finished until the CEPH provides a final decision later in the spring. The News regrets the error.