|With little fat left to trim in budgets, veterinary schools turn to tuition and fees |
Veterinary students across the country have been hit with double-digit tuition and fee hikes this fall as veterinary schools and colleges try to offset state budget cuts.
Higher education is becoming less affordable in all fields, according to a 2002 report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, in which only five states received a grade of B or better in affordability, compared with 16 states that scored a B or better in affordability in 2000. But experts say veterinary students are among the hardest hit by the growing costs, which at some veterinary schools have grown by as much as 30 percent this year.
For students, the rising costs mean a decreased quality of life and increased debt load.
At Washington State University in-state tuition increased 17 percent—$1,688—to $11,560 per year, and out-of-state tuition increased 12 percent—$2,938—to $27,420 per year. WSU students say they are coping with the hikes by buying less tasty, lower quality food for themselves; getting lunchtime jobs; using library copies of textbooks rather than buying their own; renting rooms in their homes; and taking out more loans, according to Tawnie Bailey, a WSU Student AVMA delegate.
"Just about everybody took out more loans," Bailey said. She added that students are concerned about their high debt loads and low starting salaries. "We're all pretty aware that our first positions as veterinarians are not going to be enough. But there's nothing we can do about it."
Fourth-year students are the hardest hit because their rotations prevent them from working parttime and they must spend money on clothes to satisfy the professional dress code, Bailey said. She added that, despite the negative financial outlook, students are focused on their training and future careers.
"We want to graduate and be good doctors, and if that means being broke, then that's OK," Bailey said.
Students at campuses across the country are facing similar hardships.
Schools face difficult choices
State budget cuts hit many veterinary schools hard this year, according to Dr. Lawrence E. Heider, the executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
Dr. Heider said veterinary schools often shoulder a larger portion of university budget cuts because university leaders consider veterinary programs expensive. But after many years of consecutive budget cuts, it can be difficult to cut costs without jeopardizing the quality of programs.
"It's been done so much in the last several decades that there's precious little left to cut," Dr. Heider said.
That leaves administrators with few choices but to raise tuition, because state allocations and tuition provide the bulk of the funding for veterinary programs.
"Administrators are loath (to increase tuition) because that increases student debt loads," Dr. Heider said.
At some universities, veterinary school administrators may have little say in whether tuition is raised.
At the University of Illinois, the central administration increased tuition by 10 percent across the board. This increase had a disproportional effect on veterinary students because their tuition is higher than that of the general student population, said Dr. Gerald J. Pijanowski, the associate dean for academic and student affairs at the veterinary college.
There was a 13 percent or $1,478 increase to $12,608 in tuition for first-year veterinary students who are Illinois residents. Tuition for out-of-state students increased 11 percent or $3,030 to $29,680.
"This was a major increase," Dr. Pijanowski said.
At Iowa State University, veterinary students are facing 29 percent to 30 percent tuition and fee increases, with tuition and fees climbing from $7,110 to $9,200 for in-state students and from $19,376 to $25,600 for out-of-state students.
Dr. Norman Cheville, the dean of the veterinary college, said the percentage increases were large because tuition and fees at the college have been low compared with those of other schools until now.
Many veterinary schools have added mandatory fees—in addition to or in lieu of tuition hikes—because the revenue from veterinary school fees stays in the veterinary program, whereas tuition revenues are shared with the entire university.
Dr. E. Dean Gage, the associate dean of professional studies at Texas A&M University, said the veterinary college has held the line on tuition increases, but increased fees to provide raises for faculty and other program improvements. Base tuition for in-state veterinary students is $5,400. Tuition and fees at the school increased from $8,500 to $10,565 for in-state students this year and increased from $19,274 to $21,365 for out-of-state residents.
Students and school officials said they are concerned about the long-term consequences of rising tuition, fees, and debt loads.
Salary growth for entry-level veterinarians has not kept pace with the growing costs of education, according to a 1999 report on the KPMG LLP veterinary market study commissioned by the AVMA, AAVMC, and American Animal Hospital Association.
The proportion of a veterinarian's income needed to pay off student debt grew from 6.5 percent in 1985 to 10 percent in 1995, according to the study.
According to the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, the problem isn't rising tuition; it's inadequate pay and compensation for veterinarians.
Dr. Lonnie King, vice chair of the commission and the dean of the veterinary college at Michigan State University, said tuition is rising in all professional programs, but in other programs, graduates are better compensated and more able to pay back their debts.
Most veterinary students are focusing on becoming good veterinarians and don't worry about salary issues until after they graduate, Dr. King said. Many schools now offer debt management courses to first- and second-year students to encourage them to take on less debt and better manage their debts after graduation. Veterinary school officials also are aggressively seeking loans and scholarships for students.
But some would like the veterinary profession as a whole to be more aggressive in addressing this problem.
Dr. Pijanowski, a longtime AVMA member, said he'd like to see the Association take a more active role in addressing rising tuition costs because, in the long run, this trend could hurt the veterinary profession.
"This is an issue the AVMA should get (more) involved with," he said. "We run the risk of limiting who can enter the profession and reducing the income potential on the other side."
Dr. King said the NCVEI hopes to solve these problems by teaching veterinarians good business management skills and working to raise veterinarians' salaries. He explained that, in professions with higher salaries, such as human medicine, not only are rising tuition costs offset by high earning potential, but also, the professions are able to attract a more diverse group of students.
For more information about the NCVEI, visit www.ncvei.org.