United States: The High Cost Of A Veterinary Medical Education

Last Updated: June 16 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

The practice of veterinary medicine remains a noble profession but it is increasingly out of reach for many aspiring veterinarians.

One of the best sources of information for students interested in a veterinary career is the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), "a non-profit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment by advancing academic veterinary medicine."

The history and mission of this association is described on its website, in part as follows:

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) was formed in 1966 by the deans of the 18 U.S. and three Canadian veterinary colleges. During the 1970s, AAVMC's membership expanded to include the departments of veterinary science in colleges of agriculture. Angell Animal Medical Center was granted membership in the mid-1980s, and the category of membership expanded to "other veterinary medical education organizations" in 2001. Departments of comparative medicine were added in the mid-1990s. International AVMA-accredited schools were first admitted in the 1990s as non-voting affiliate members; they became voting members in 2007. Non-AVMA-accredited schools were granted non-voting affiliate status in 2007 as well.

Today, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges coordinates the affairs of all 30 U.S. veterinary medical colleges, all five Canadian colleges of veterinary medicine, eight U.S. departments of veterinary science, eight U.S. departments of comparative medicine, eight international veterinary schools, three veterinary medical education organizations, and four affiliate international veterinary schools. The association represents more than 4,000 faculty, 5,000 staff, 10,000 veterinary students, and 3,000 graduate students at these institutions.

A major concern to veterinarians, veterinary associations, and educators is the continued escalating cost of a veterinary medical education.

According to Dr. John Baker, dean of the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, "the ratio of student debt to graduate starting salary is the biggest challenge facing veterinary medicine, and is increasing to a level where it may impact the number and quality of students applying for a veterinary medical education."

The AAVMC, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, convened to discuss this issue in Spring 2016, and, as reported in a press release, recommendations from these thought leaders included, in part:

To explore and implement a five-to-six-year program for students to earn a D.V.M. degree; by working with local undergraduate institutions on refining the curricula, this would enable students to have two extra years to earn income;

To encourage creation of national partnerships and campaigns to raise funds for scholarships;

To work with the AAVMC and AVMA in advocating for legislation to help reduce student debt; and

To document actual educational costs and charge accordingly, which would, among other things, create greater transparency in revenue lines for research and education.

. . .

To reconsider compensation packages for new graduates/associate veterinarians;

. . .

To create a national campaign around student debt; and

To include student debt as a regular follow-up agenda item at annual events such as the AVMA Economic Summit, AVMA Convention and AAVMC Conference; the purpose of this would be to monitor progress on efforts to reduce the DIR and to hold each other accountable.

. . .

To personally engage deans, their peers and future students in conversations about financial literacy and student debt; and

To inform pre-veterinary students about the current student debt issue and discuss what is being done to address it.

In New Jersey legislators have been trying to revamp a pre-existing program, that has since lost its funding, to assist veterinary students who are New Jersey residents by establishing contracts "with out-of-state schools of veterinary medicine for the acceptance of 30 New Jersey students for the 2017-2018 academic year and to increase the number of contractual agreements for an additional 30 students in each of the next three subsequent academic years, until the total number of contractual agreements supports the education of 120 students in the 2020-2021 academic year."

The veterinary medicine education program, originally established through statute in 1971, provides contracting schools with "a capitation subsidy toward the cost of education in return for reserved spaces for New Jersey students."

Between the FY 2007 and FY 2011 fiscal years, funding for the program was reduced and then eliminated. This lack of State support has restricted the ability of New Jersey students to study veterinary medicine, which is significant in light of the fact that such programs are not available within the State.

Previously, students attending veterinary school as part of a New Jersey-secured seat were not obligated to return to New Jersey to practice. The current bill, S 2251, would:

establish a service requirement for students whose education is supported through these contractual agreements. Upon completion of a student's veterinary medical education, the student will be required to work in a veterinary medicine position in New Jersey for a period of 18 months for each year of contract funding provided for the student. If this service requirement is not met in whole or in part, then the student is obligated to refund to HESAA the portion of the funding that has not been redeemed through service in the State.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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