In an effort to reverse the troubling trend of steadily increasing veterinary medical student debt, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has launched an ambitious scholarship initiative with the goal of rapidly increasing annual scholarship awards by tenfold.
“We are aiming to provide greater access to the veterinary medical profession for those individuals who will lead the profession into the future,” said the college’s dean, James W. Lloyd, DVM, PhD. “We expect to be awarding $5 million in scholarship funds every year, within the next decade.”
Lloyd first announced the scholarship initiative at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando during a UF veterinary medical college alumni reception. During the event, Lloyd also shared that the initiative had received its first major contribution–a challenge matching gift of $100,000 from former UF veterinary medical college professor Paul Nicoletti, DVM. Nicoletti will match all donations made by May 15 to the scholarship initiative dollar for dollar, up to a total of $100,000.
“Although other veterinary medical colleges also actively pursue student scholarships, our college is the first to have a development officer dedicated entirely to fundraising for scholarship support,” Lloyd said.
Following a national search, Lloyd appointed Patricia Wlasuk in January to spearhead fundraising for the initiative, which originated conceptually from the college’s strategic planning process.
“Alumni, students, faculty and staff were included in this process, which began in 2013,” Lloyd said. “All groups expressed concern that the escalating student debt load trend was restricting recruitment and possibly having a negative impact on the choice of career pathway among veterinary medical graduates.”
About 2,900 students graduate each year from veterinary medical colleges in the United States, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. The most recent American Veterinary Medical Association student survey reports that these new graduates leave school with an average debt of $151,000.
“Our goal is to see the average veterinary student’s debt load decrease instead of continuing to escalate,” Lloyd said. “Unfortunately, the trend is clear that the student debt is likely to continue to increase without this initiative.”
Lloyd said veterinarians play a key role in animal, human and environmental health.
“The need for veterinarians both nationally and internationally will only increase,” he said. “We feel it is our obligation–to our students, to the profession and to society as a whole–to help enhance student access, keeping our profession vibrant and robust.”
Wlasuk said the college plans to first approach veterinarians, including alumni and others who support the scholarship goals, for financial support.