BIVI Vet School State of the Industry, Part 1

Credit: Kimberly S. Brown

Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., (BIVI) hosted members of the livestock and equine media at the BIVI Mediafest in October 2015 at their headquarters in Missouri. Media and BIVI specialists mostly segregated by species for educational opportunities, but one joint session was very enlightening to all in attendance.

BIVI presented a Veterinary School “State of the Industry” panel featuring Dr. Linda Berent, associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Patrick Halbur, chair, department of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine; and Dr. Brad White, associate professor of production medicine, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The panel was moderated by Dr. Craig Jones, director of BIVI’s Cattle Professional Services. 

Jones said the purpose of the panel discussion was to learn about the challenges and issues are affecting vet schools and what is being done to address those. The three key topics they focused on was the debt load of graduating students, supply vs. demand for veterinarians, and curriculum.

The AVMA reported that the average debt for a graduating veterinarian was $135,000, but Jones said we all knew that many of today’s veterinarians graduated with a much higher debt.

Jones asked: Why has the cost of a vet degree risen?

“The state support for veterinary colleges has been static or decreasing over the past 10 years,” said Berent. “At the same time, the cost of running a teaching hospital has increased.” She said compounded on that, clients expect all of the specialties available, client numbers have dropped, and disposable income has dropped.

“Tuition over the past 10 years has risen 3-5% per year from what I’ve seen in Missouri,” she added.

Jones asked whether the cost of veterinary school has impacted the number and quality of applicants.

“Berent said that she has not seen a problem with the quality or number of applicants with the 60 in-state and 60 out-of-state seats available.

“The average GPA for out-of-state applicants is 3.7, and for in-state applicants is 3.68,” she noted. “And most of them have over 1,500 shadowing hours with vets.”

She added that Missouri’s vet school allows second-year students to be eligible for in-state tuition.

Jones asked: What are you doing at the University of Missouri to help students who are wondering about either going to vet school or doing something else

Berent said the students have to look at where they find personal rewards as well as financial.

“We emphasize trying to live like a student and borrow as little as possible,” she said. “Our financial aid counselor helps them not borrow as much and go back to get more if needed. We try to teach them financial literacy…That $5,000 over life of debt that translates to $10,000-15,000. Wouldn’t you rather have that to spend when you are in practice?”

Halbur said they have been very fortunate at Iowa State because they have seen an increase in appropriations from the state.

“Bottom line is we have to have more colleges run like a business,” he said. “We need to look to increase all revenue streams and quit only doing things with tuition revenues.

“We’ve turned our service units into exciting hospitals that are profitable,” he said. “Our diagnostic lab is highly profitable. With that you get more cases and more teaching possibilities. Our diagnostic lab will do 80,000 cases from livestock and poultry.

“The bottom line is to run that college like a business and maximize all revenue streams and not put so much on the back of students,” he concluded.

White said K State has had tuition increased like Dr. Berent mentioned. “Most students are trying to do a good job, but not all of them are equipped because they are not used to running a business, and your personal finances are like a business,” said White. He said once they realize that, “It changes their perspective.

“We are trying to put the tools in their hands to do a better job,” White said. “Over the years, you see them when they get to their senior year, they put a pencil to it, but by that point it’s real. We try to back that education and debt up to have those important conversations before they enroll in school and in the early years. We want to make sure they have realistic expectations.

“While money isn’t the reason someone does the profession, they need to make a living,” White concluded.

Halbur said their numbers for enrollment have stayed flat, “but the number of kids with ag backgrounds is much lower. I think that the ag sector is good and these graduates can get good jobs in the ag sector without going to vet school. We have to change our curriculum to compete in ag sector.”

Jones said, “Personal satisfaction important, but they have got to be able to make ends meet to have that satisfaction.”

Jones asked: Is debt load prejudicing students to the type of practices that are more lucrative and is creating shortages for specific practices?

Berent said, “I see some students making choices to see if they can service their loans. I see geographic choices. They want to move home, but they can make more money living somewhere else. I don’t see them going to small animal instead of beef.”

Jones said one concern is where are we going to get faculty? There are some debt repayment programs with public practice loans and after 10 years all loans are forgiven tax-free.

Berent said, “One student worked for me for three years who was $300,000 in debt. If she stays seven more years at an academic institution, she’ll be debt free.”

White said, “We need to include starting salaries in discussion of debt load. Debt load increased, but starting salaries have not increased at same rate as debt load. While we realize costs have changed, tuition and living expenses go up, we have to be able to account for some of that on the salary side.

“Given the opportunity, all of us would like a higher paying job,” said White. “As a profession, we need to think about income side. Are there things we can do on that side?”

Jones asked: How is the job market in food animal medicine compared to supply. We’ll start with that and go to other species.

White said, “We have increased the number of students from vet schools by adding schools and changing accreditation. So supply has increased 10-12%.

“We also can’t just look at what jobs are,” White said. “We’re not in a vacuum. I do mostly beef cattle. In that industry it has changed over last 10 years. There are changes in the number of farms and ranches and a lot of consolidation as well as a change in the size of ranches.

“Equine has seen changes in response to industry,” White said. “It’s all supply and demand.

“We see every year we have high-quality food animal or equine grads who can find good jobs,” noted White. “There are people who can find exactly the job they want. But not everyone can be as selective.”

More from this panel discussion will be published in upcoming weeks.

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