The Veterinary Scholarship Trust of New England has taken a new approach to helping students afford rapidly rising tuition at colleges across the country.
When veterinarians created the fund in 1959, the plan was to provide no-interest loans to New England residents studying veterinary medicine. Then, a few years ago, the organization changed course to better assist veterinary students with educational expenses.
"With $100,000-plus debts, they don't need another loan, they need a scholarship," trustee Dr. J. Clyde Johnson said. "So we decided as a board of trustees to not give loans anymore, but to give scholarships to all New England veterinary students in the United States."
Dr. Johnson said the regional focus is what makes the trust unique, as well as broad support from individual veterinarians.
According to a comparative data report from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, average first-year tuition and fees at U.S. veterinary colleges for residents rose from $10,179 for the class of 2004 to $14,245 for the class of 2008. Nonresidents paid $20,857 for the class of 2004 and $29,118 for the class of 2008.
The debt load has continued to outpace inflation, too. According to the AVMA Graduating Seniors Survey, mean educational debt rose from $76,558 in 2003 to $88,077 in 2005 for graduates of U.S. veterinary medical colleges. More than a third of 2005 graduates owed more than $100,000—up from about a fifth of 2003 graduates (see JAVMA, Oct. 1, 2005).
According to the AAVMC, far more veterinary students received federal loans than federal grants or scholarships during the 2003-2004 academic year. Hundreds of students received federal loans, while 31 students received Pell grants and 79 students received scholarships for disadvantaged students.
Sources of veterinary scholarships have long included the federal government, veterinary colleges, veterinary associations, veterinary industry, species groups, and a variety of other organizations. But the Veterinary Scholarship Trust of New England exists solely as a source of scholarships.
The trust offers scholarships to any New England resident who is a student in good standing at an AVMA-accredited veterinary college. The trust considers New England residents to include students who graduated from a public high school in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont, or who lived in one of the states for five continuous years preceding the date of admission to veterinary college.
Most of the support for the scholarships comes from veterinarians, other individuals, state VMAs, the New England VMA, canine and equine groups, memorial gifts, and rabies clinics. The trust sent a mailing in 2004 to all of the veterinarians in New England and held a silent auction this year at the NEVMA conference. Now the trust is trying to match a $50,000 challenge grant by the end of 2005.
"One of my philosophies is that the veterinary profession—and environs—is a group that is responsible to decrease the debt of veterinary students," Dr. Johnson said. "Nobody else is going to do it."
He said the thank-you notes from students are so amazing that they give him goose bumps. He hopes the scholarships teach students the gift of giving for the benefit of the next generation of veterinarians.
This year, the trust gave 134 scholarships and awards worth a total of $102,000. The recipients are attending 19 veterinary colleges, with 85 students pursuing their degrees at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.
Information about the trust is available at www.veterinaryscholarshiptrust.org.