Arkansas eyes new veterinary program

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May 01, 2011

MAGNOLIA, ARK. — Southern Arkansas University officials are talking about a new veterinary school. The talks are so preliminary, it is not yet determined whether the university would pursue a full-scale veterinary college or a partial program.

Partial programs, dubbed "2+2" programs, are becoming more common in order to satisfy a predicted veterinary shortage. The most recent collaboration announced is one between Utah State University and Washington State University's veterinary college as first reported in DVM Newsmagazine.

Dr. David Rankin, president of Southern Arkansas, says there are no parameters for the project yet, but university officials welcome these discussions.

House Bill 1780, introduced March 1 by Rep. Garry Smith, was the first step in the process.

"It's a large financial obligation, I know that. But then again, why not make it available in the state of Arkansas?" Smith asks. "It's the right time to think about moving forward with the program."

Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine offered Arkansas students some slots in its veterinary program, forgiving out-of-state tuition, but Smith says the goal is to find a way to make sure veterinary students from Arkansas return there to practice. Keeping students in the state to start with might help, he says.

"We're trying to get them to come back to our state instead of going somewhere else," he says. No money is available for the project yet, but Smith says the bill will help spur discussion in the future. "They're thinking forward; they're planning ahead. It's about money, money, money, and in today's economy, that's hard to find. But I think from our side in the legislature, if we don't set the groundwork we'll never have it."

When and if funding is appropriated to the project, Smith says it would be up to university leaders to determine what kind of school to pursue—a full veterinary college, a partial program or even a technician training program.

Rankin says a partial program is a possibility, since Arkansas is surrounded by veterinary colleges in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and Kansas. But Southern Arkansas has a heavy emphasis on agriculture, and already has on-campus farms, a dairy and is in the process of building a new agriculture facility. Still, Rankin says he realizes the many challenges of running a full-scale veterinary school, adding "a cooperative effort would be appealing."

"This is really just the beginning of a discussion of what we might be able to do here in Arkansas," he says.