2+2 = success, colleges hope

Washington State, Utah State prepare for partnership
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Two Western colleges have hope that by working together, they may be able to solve both their problems.

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine has reached capacity, at least until it can garner new classroom facilities, yet wants to increase its class size.

A student listens to a calf's heartbeat.
A student at Utah State University listens to a calf's heartbeat. The university's College of Agriculture produces the most preveterinary graduates in the state.
USU, which completed a teaching research laboratory building in 2008, is looking to partner with Washington State University to create a joint veterinary program.
If the proposed program is approved by the Utah State Board of Regents and receives state funding, up to 30 students would spend their first two years of veterinary college at Utah State and the second two years at Washington State.

Utah State University has the largest preveterinary program, with 150 to 200 preveterinary students out of 300 to 400 total in the state at any given time, yet all its students must head elsewhere for veterinary school, and most don't return home after finishing their education. In addition, only six veterinary students from Utah are funded through the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. This regional organization comprises 15 member states that work to improve access to higher education through student exchange programs and initiatives, allowing students to pay in-state tuition at out-of-state institutions. USU's Department of Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences wants greater access to veterinary schools for its students and more state support for their tuition to reduce their student debt.

Administrators at these two institutions might have found the solutions they've been looking for in the form of a 2+2 program.

Pleased to meet you

A 2+2 program allows the first two years of a four-year veterinary curriculum to be delivered at two locations, with students coming together for the final two years at a university with a veterinary school. The curriculum is a traditional discipline-based curriculum with basic science concepts taught the first two years, followed by a third year of classroom-based, clinically oriented instruction. The fourth year is dedicated to clinical training in rotations at a teaching hospital and in off-site preceptorships.

Dr. Bryan K. Slinker, dean of WSU's veterinary college, said he was approached two years ago by Utah State faculty to consider an agreement similar to the one WSU had with Oregon State University years ago. In that arrangement, which lasted from 1981-2003, Washington State provided 36 seats for second- and third-year OSU veterinary students.

In late 2008, Utah State faculty visited WSU, and then, in early 2009, WSU's Dean Slinker and associate dean Dr. Doug Jasper visited Utah State.

Both entities agreed to form an exploratory committee composed of five to six faculty members from the two campuses. The committee looked at resources, logistics, and challenges as well as potential solutions. The committee submitted a report to Dean Slinker in late 2009. Essentially the report agreed a collaboration was possible, said Kenneth L. White, PhD, head of Utah State's Department of Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences.

A foundation to build on

Part of the reason for the program's feasibility, Dr. White said, is that most of the heavy lifting has already been done. USU completed a research laboratory building in 2008. A new College of Agriculture building, which will include several classrooms, will be completed in January 2012. The campus also has a dairy farm with a state-of-the-art milking parlor; a 26-acre Equine Education Center; the Animal Science Farm, which provides facilities for beef cattle, sheep, and swine; and a veterinary diagnostic laboratory accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Seven DVM faculty members teach at the agriculture college with other faculty able to make the transition to teach in a veterinary program, Dr. White said.

Utah students are among our best students usually and they are students we work hard to attract here under the current system with WICHE. This would definitely increase the capacity for Utah compared to their current support of students.


Two hurdles remain. The first is receiving approval for the program from the Utah State Board of Regents, which had yet to meet before press time. The second is receiving approval for funding by the state legislature for hiring more faculty and for expenses for classes taught at Utah State. The 2011 legislative session runs Jan. 24 through March 10. An initial investment of $1.7 million is being sought. An ongoing state appropriation of $3 million a year for USU's portion of the 2+2 program would be required from then on, but, Dr. White said, "If you had to start building new buildings and hire faculty from ground zero, the price tag would be substantially more than that."

The final step, securing authorization for funding, remains uncertain in the upcoming legislative cycle, given that, like most states, Utah has revenue shortfalls to consider when budgeting, Dean Slinker said. In addition, USU will be going up against the University of Utah, which is requesting more money for its medical school because of a shortfall of primary-care doctors in the state.

Regardless, Dean Slinker said WSU is committed to pursuing the agreement.

If the 2+2 program is approved for funding next year, Utah State could potentially have its first class enter by fall 2012 and move on to Washington State in 2014.

The plan is to accept 20 Utah residents per class plus up to 10 nonresidents into the Utah State arm of the program, depending on WSU's caseloads and ability to continue to provide quality clinical rotations in the students' fourth year.

Right now, WSU accepts three to five Utah students each year. WICHE has supported about half of those students in the past few years, and the state of Utah has supported nearly the same, Dean Slinker said.

"Utah students are among our best students usually, and they are students we work hard to attract here under the current system with WICHE. This would definitely increase the capacity for Utah compared to their current support of students," Dean Slinker said.

Bridging the gap

Despite the fact Logan, Utah, and Pullman, Wash., are about 600 miles apart, the colleges hope to provide a relatively identical experience for students at both campuses during their first two years. Dean Slinker said this is possible by hosting the two sets of students together during orientation week at the WSU campus, and using video conferencing and computing technology to allow student clubs on both campuses to meet jointly.

Distance teaching via video conferencing can be used for some courses, such as radiology for second-year students. Other courses, such as physiology for first-year students, can be taught in-person at both locations.

Not only will the 2+2 program have a joint curriculum committee composed of WSU and USU faculty, but also, each course will have pertinent joint committees with blended faculty to ensure precise coordination over how the courses work, sharing of materials, and consistent assessment in the development of curricular goals and student progress, Dean Slinker said.

As part of that, the WSU veterinary college has created an associate deanship for teaching and learning. This dean will be charged with curriculum review and faculty development. This position will be vital, Dean Slinker said, particularly as the college develops the 2+2 program and adds other partners in the future.

"We need to be intentional about faculty development so they have access to resources on how to teach well in context of our program. Each department has an associate chair who will work with the dean. They will be a core team working with faculty to articulate curriculum goals," Dean Slinker said, adding that the associate dean will help faculty do better and assess them.

Source of inspiration

The University of Nebraska and Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine initiated the first 2+2 program involving a veterinary college about four years ago, but Dean Slinker said the concept has been around for a while in the health sciences education field.

The WWAMI program, for example, is a joint venture between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the states of Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. Students who enter the program are enrolled in the University of Washington School of Medicine, but they take their first year of medical school basic science courses in their home states. After that, WWAMI students join their classmates on the Seattle campus.

"I have a dual role as vice provost for health sciences (at WSU), and so I'm quite familiar with how the WWAMI program works and how they structure having students in the first year and then the third- and fourth-year rotations all over the five-state region in a cohesive, high-quality program," Dean Slinker said. "We're taking several cues, in terms of how to do assessment and manage faculty and curriculum, from the WWAMI program as well."

Keeping up with demand

An estimated 500 veterinarians practice in Utah, which has a population of nearly 2.8 million. The state's population has grown at a rate of approximately 65,000 people every year. Current statistics indicate there is one veterinarian for approximately every 6,500 people.

"Even the gross rate suggests the need for 10 more vets alone per year to meet demand," Dr. White said, adding this does not take into account the need specifically for food animal veterinarians. "This is a compelling reason to provide increased access for resident students in Utah."

A large share of practitioners are located along the Wasatch Front, an urban area in the north-central part of the state where roughly 80 percent of the population resides. Very few veterinarians—approximately 100—who can address the needs of production agriculture are found in the rural areas of Utah, according to Dr. Bruce L. King, Utah state veterinarian.

"Most of the veterinarians in rural Utah are seasoned veterinarians, meaning many are getting older. At this point, as older veterinarians are needing to bring in some younger associates to rural Utah, these seasoned veterinarians are finding that they cannot offer enough incentive by way of pay to meet the new graduates' needs. Most graduates returning to Utah from veterinary school bring with them six-figure student loans that need to be repaid. And as a result, these graduates gravitate to the Wasatch Front and work on dogs and cats, where the returns are much more appealing," Dr. King said.

With USU participating in a 2+2 program, Dr. King said the state would be allowed greater local oversight in the admissions process. Plus, the Utah VMA would be better in control of workforce projections and have greater power to address any area shortages.

"I would contend that someone who comes from rural Utah is more apt to return to rural Utah to practice veterinary medicine upon graduation. This program would also allow a lot more accessibility to the profession for Utah residents who would like to pursue the veterinary profession for a vocation," Dr. King said.