Make or Break Compliance Part 1: Guide to Meeting ARC-PA Standards

Apr 13, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) is in charge of protecting the interests of the public and the PAs receiving training from programs in the United States. ARC-PA’s goal is to encourage sound educational practices, innovation, and continuous improvement, not to penalize institutions. Unfortunately, many PA administrators, program directors, and faculty live in fear of receiving citations for being out of compliance with specific standards related to their admissions practices. Remember, the commission has the right to review your website at any time. Ensuring your compliance will save you the stress of worrying about it later.


We approach Accreditation Standards with a different attitude. Clear understanding and compliance with ARC-PA standards protects your program, its students, and their future patients, and it can benefit your program by ensuring that you have the funding and staff required to fulfill your roles. Compliance is necessary to prevent headaches and citations, and it has distinct benefits if it is maintained promptly and thoroughly.

Let’s define and interpret the meaning behind the ARC-PA Standards 5th edition related to admissions practices and clear up some common misconceptions. Accurate knowledge of the standards is essential to ensure that your admissions process remains compliant.


ARC-PA Standard A1.11 – Diversity and Inclusion

✔ The sponsoring institution must demonstrate its commitment to student, faculty, and staff diversity and inclusion by:

a) supporting the program in defining its goal(s) for diversity and inclusion,
b) supporting the program in implementing recruitment strategies,
c) supporting the program in implementing retention strategies, and
d) making available resources which promote diversity and inclusion.

This standard has profound implications for admissions practices. The ability to achieve your specific goals regarding diversity and inclusion requires dedicated labor resources to strategically review, interview, and admit students. This means that your managing institution should provide adequate support to satisfy the spirit and interpretation of the standard.

The retention standard aspect speaks to remediation practices and has legal implications in terms of fair practices involving advertisement. If you are favoring a specific group of individuals, you must advertise as such to be clear to all prospective students.


ARC-PA Standard A2.05 – Process and Procedure

✔ Principal faculty and the program director must be responsible for, and actively participate in the processes of…b) selecting applicants for admission to the PA program.

The main takeaway from this standard is that principal faculty and the program director must actively participate in the selection of applicants for admissions. Here are some important considerations related to the standard.

  1. The institution cannot make these decisions independent from the program.
  2. The faculty must have adequate time and workload to be able to perform this important function.
  3. The program must have adequate staff to be able to perform the clerical related tasks that will enable the faculty and program director to focus on the key aspects of selection.


ARC-PA Standard A3.03 – Fair Practice

✔ The program must define, publish, make readily available and consistently apply a policy for prospective and enrolled students that they must not be required to provide or solicit clinical sites.

Programs must publish policies on their website that state students must not be required to provide or solicit sites or preceptors. This does not imply that students cannot identify potential preceptors from their original geographic region.


ARC-PA Standard A3.12 – Fair Practice

This standard has multiple facets to examine. Each of the components of A3.12 will be separately reviewed with key concepts to ensure that your program is fully in compliance, preventing future citations or administrative actions.

✔ The program must define, publish, and make readily available to enrolled and prospective students general program information to include:

a) the program’s ARC-PA accreditation status as provided to the program by the ARC-PA

Always include the exact language provided by ARC-PA. For provisional applicant programs, this does not mean that you can’t launch a website, but you must include the language provided in the correspondence from the commission when your program entered the provisional pathway.

b) evidence of its effectiveness in meeting its goals

Measurable data sets must be gathered, tabulated, and displayed on the website providing evidence that the program is achieving its established goals. Prospective students will review these goals for evidence of the program’s quality and outcomes.

c) The most current annual NCCPA PANCE Exam Performance Summary Report Last 5 Years

One of the first things prospective students will review is the first-time-taker pass rate on the PANCE. Students will have valid concerns if your program is consistently below the national average. The commission continuously monitors websites to ensure that this report directly downloaded from NCCPA is displayed promptly and is easily accessible on the main landing page.

d) all required curricular components, including required rotation disciplines

Programs must display the curriculum prominently on the website. Once visitors arrive on the landing page, this information should be available within one click. If the commission feels that this information is not readily available (requiring multiple clicks), the page will be deemed non-compliant.

e) academic credit offered by the program

The number of credit hours must be displayed prominently on the landing page within one click. The number of credit hours is directly connected to the cost to the student; any discrepancies between correspondence to students and the website will result in an immediate citation during an on-site visit.

f) estimates of all costs (tuition, fees, etc.) related to the program

This is a frequent cause of citations because of discrepancies among materials providing cost structure to prospective students. Ensure that your admissions department has the latest information, including tuition and fees. This information must be specific and updated annually. Do not rely on your admissions department to display this information. This is another item that must be displayed prominently on your landing page, accessible within one click.

g) program required competencies for entry level practice, consistent with the competencies as defined by the PA profession

The program determines what competencies are measured upon students graduating from the program. Providing adequate measurability with data demonstrating that graduates are achieving these competencies provides key evidence for prospective students. This is another item that must be readily available within one click.

h) whether certain services and resources are only available to students and faculty on the main campus when the program is offered at a geographically distant campus location

The number of PA programs with distant campuses is growing. The program must provide adequate information about services that students will need to acquire on the main campus. Prospective students might have reservations about attending a distant campus program. This transparency can make a huge difference in students’ willingness to matriculate to your distant campus.

i) the most current annual student attrition information, on the table provided by the ARC-PA, no later than April first each year

There is a required template that must be displayed on the website. Prospective students will immediately notice if the program has high attrition rates. Experiencing higher than national average attrition rates must be addressed with robust remediation and careful admissions practices.


ARC-PA Standard A3.14 – Fair Practice

✔ The program must make student admission decisions in accordance with clearly defined and published practices of the institution and program.

Providing clear information is the key. Making it easily accessible on your website and all in all other materials is paramount for maintaining compliance. This accreditation standard encompasses all the admissions practices that you advertise to prospective students. The institution may have specific standards for admission to the institution. For example, the graduate school may have a specific requirement for PA students to be admitted to the university. Consistency and clarity are key. Following your policies is non-negotiable.


Issue 23 of PA Admissions Corner will be entirely devoted to ARC-PA Standard A3.13, which we have found to be the most frequently misunderstood of the many standards programs must follow. We’ll cut through the confusion about complying with this important standard.


To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
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Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

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