School cuts deepen

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School cuts deepen

Penn faces 30 percent state cut; vet colleges lose millions in funding
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Mar 01, 2010

NATIONAL REPORT — While veterinary schools have reportedly lost $45 million to $50 million in state funding over the last two years, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine faces a new 30 percent reduction.

"It's overwhelming," says Joan Hendricks, PhD, VMD, Penn's dean in an interview with DVM Newsmagazine. "We're trying to plan for what we thought was a worst-case scenario, and it actually got worse."

After months of waiting for state officials to come to a decision on its funding cut, Penn officials learned in early February that its state contribution would decrease by 30 percent, from $43 million last year to $30 million for the current school year.

"We were budgeting for $32 million and hoping it would be $34 million," Hendricks says, "so we were already eyeing ways to handle the $43 million to $32 million drop."

The state budget normally is in place by July, but tough economic conditions have left the state scrambling to balance its budget. Hendricks pleaded with legislators on the school's behalf and $2 million of the funding cut was returned in earlier negotiations, but the governor cut $4.4 million out in the budget's final draft. That cut included $2 million for the school's infectious-disease research program.

Although Penn is a private veterinary school, it gets about 35 percent of its funding from the state. The infectious-disease program will be put on hold this year, but Penn officials say the governor budgeted $500,000 for the program, formally funded at $2 million per year, in next year's budget. The state also has $30 million, the same as this year, budgeted for next year's general fund.

"We were not the only one that was cut, but it was incredibly painful," Hendricks says. "We are absolutely doing everything we can to teach more efficiently. We have to do the same or better with less. We just have to."

Voluntary layoffs and unfilled staff positions already have resulted in about 150 lost positions at Penn, Hendricks says, and no more are planned as a result of the new funding cut. Instead, the under-construction Moran Critical Care Center is in jeopardy. The school is capable of staffing the new hospital when it opens, but paying for utilities will be a challenge, she says.

Tuition hikes won't make up for the cuts, and Hendricks says there will be a "modest increase" when new tuition rates are approved in March. The school "certainly won't try to make up $13 million through tuition," she says.

Like many other veterinary colleges, Penn also is dealing with a decrease in clinical revenue — a 10 percent decline last year — and has hired a professional marketing firm to try and increase the hospital's income.

Penn is not alone, though, and efforts are being made by all the nation's veterinary colleges to find a more efficient way of educating the next generation of veterinarians. Dealing with cash-strapped states has become a way of life for veterinary colleges, adds Hendricks, who said schools have to adjust to these realities.

"As hard as it is, has been and will be, we are learning to make it through," Hendricks says. "We are learning to live with less and uncertainty."