Crisis control

Crisis control

How will leaders in veterinary education navigate the roadmap for the future?
Mar 01, 2012

NATIONAL REPORT — More than half of the deans at the nation's 28 veterinary colleges say cuts to state funding have negatively affected their ability to maintain academic programs and course offerings, according to new survey data collected by the Association of American Veterinary Colleges (AAVMC).

The new data were collected last fall and released at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando in January.

Financial struggles for veterinary colleges and veterinary students over the past several years has been no secret. Decreased state funding and escalating costs is making it more difficult for veterinary schools to remain fully staffed. Increasing tuition rates are burdening new graduates with record amounts of student debt.

The North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium's collaborative report dubbed the "roadmap for the future of veterinary education" was adopted by the AAVMC Board of Directors last summer. It highlighted the need for veterinary schools to graduate veterinarians with the real-world skills necessary to immediately contribute to veterinary practice.

But with decreasing resources and a call to continue to do more with less, the question now is, what will leaders in veterinary education do to reach the destination laid out by NAVMEC's roadmap?

The state of U.S. veterinary education

Not much has changed over the past few years in terms of funding for veterinary education. Despite calls for states to rescind funding cuts put in place during the recession, most of the nation's veterinary colleges continue to struggle with budget cuts.

According to AAVMC, veterinary schools across the country have faced $104 million in state cuts over the past two years alone.

"These cuts have really caused a reduction in the number of faculty at a number of colleges, many through retirement or [pursuing] opportunities at other places," says Dr. Bennie Osburn, former dean of the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and interim executive director of AAVMC. "The money has not been there to replace these reductions, and we see them continuing for the next number of years."

Colleges of veterinary medicine are reporting that, nationally, they have been unable to fill 120 faculty positions. In a recent economic survey conducted by AAVMC, 71.4 percent of veterinary college deans said state cuts have reduced their ability to hire and maintain faculty, 53.5 percent said the cuts have affected their ability to maintain academic programs and course offerings and 50 percent said the cuts are interfering with extension and outreach services.

And veterinary education leaders aren't expecting improvement any time soon, with a large number of the nation's veterinary faculty nearing retirement age, Osburn says.

Sharing resources

As stated in the NAVMEC report, veterinary schools will increasingly have to look at sharing resources as a way to provide the same education to veterinary students, Osburn says. Many colleges are looking at—and some already have initiated—sharing faculty and courses through distance learning programs or online courses.

"There's work beginning in those areas, but as we look down the road, we're going to need more of that type of thing," Osburn says.

Some clinic areas are impacted more than others in this realm, Osburn says, like food animal and large animal programs. For example, instead of each school addressing multiple large animal species, regional centers will likely be used to save resources. Iowa has a swine center and Minnesota and California have dairy centers. Osburn says those centers could train students from other colleges that lack resources.

"There may be some of these centers that are going to continue to develop," Osburn says, adding that veterinary education leaders are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to facilitate such programs.

Two-plus-two programs, where students complete their first two years of a DVM program at one school and the second two years at another, also are increasing in popularity, with collaborations now in place between Nebraska and Iowa, and Washington and Utah, Osburn notes.