Letting the numbers tell the story

AAVMC places new focus on collecting, disseminating data
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As student debt, recent graduate employment, and enrollment of American students at foreign institutions continue to generate discussion in the veterinary profession, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is responding with talk of collecting—and better publicizing—more data in these areas.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC executive director, said the association is in the process of hiring a data analyst as well as increasing the amount of data it collects on enrollment, tuition, and student demographics. This information will be posted on the association’s website.

Dr. Andrew Maccabe
Dr. Andrew Maccabe, AAVMC executive director, discusses the association’s renewed focus on providing up-to-date statistics about academic veterinary medicine. (Photos courtesy of AAVMC)

“This association needs to be the go-to source of information about veterinary medical education and academia. The way we do it is by providing good quality information,” Dr. Maccabe said during the AAVMC Annual Conference March 6-10 in Alexandria, Va.

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Accessible data

The AAVMC has been collecting some form of data from its member institutions for more than 40 years through its Comparative Data Report. This is an internal report produced for U.S. and Canadian association members. The CDR is not publicly available, though the association periodically releases summary data from the report.

The CDR includes faculty, student, and financial data from participating U.S. and Canadian institutions. The student data tend to be most often reported in summary graphs and tables, and include enrollment; racial, ethnic, and gender distributions; tuition; and first-year student profiles. Much of the student data are published in the AAVMC’s Veterinary Medical School Admissions Requirements book.

However, financial data that are collected are specifically used by member institutions and are “not used for advocacy purposes,” said Lisa Greenhill, AAVMC associate executive director for institutional research and diversity. These include information from member institutions on veterinary student debt at graduation.

“Our data is a reflection of institutionally reported debt or all educational debt specifically known/passed through the institution. The AVMA Senior Survey reports self-reported student debt, which may be inclusive of loans accrued privately but used for educational purposes,” Greenhill explained.

The AAVMC also publicly reports figures from its Veterinary Medical College Application Service. Currently, VMCAS data covering five years are available at aavmc.org/PublicData/VMCAS-Statistics.aspx. The VMCAS seats approximately 90 percent of first-year veterinary students in the United States.

Chart: Number of first-year students at the US colleges of veterinary medicine

More information needed

Still, the association is willing to do more.

This year, the AAVMC made available on its website for the first time a tuition map that shows estimated cost of attendance and number of seats available at each member institution, U.S. and foreign. In addition, the association included 10 years’ worth of data relevant to enrollment, diversity, gender, and tuition in its 2012-2013 annual data report—another first for the organization. The information can be found at www.aavmc.org/About-AAVMC/Public-Data.aspx.

Dr. Deborah T. Kochevar
"We do have challenges. Student debt is too high, and salaries are too low, but unemployment is not the issue some people are making it," said Dr. Deborah T. Kochevar, dean of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and AAVMC president. "The more important piece is the realization on all fronts that the way we collect employment data needs to change."

Furthermore, the AAVMC conducted an inaugural survey of its 20 international members and affiliate members, i.e., institutions not accredited by the AVMA Council on Education, early in 2013. This was done to project the number of American citizens completing professional veterinary education programs outside the U.S. and Canada through 2015. What the AAVMC found was 538 U.S. citizens graduated from these foreign veterinary colleges in 2012. These institutions project just over 600 American graduates in 2013, 667 in 2014, and 735 in 2015. The survey results can be viewed at aavmc.org/Public-Data/Survey-of-Projected-American-Graduates-from-Outside-of-the-US.aspx.

Comparatively, among U.S. veterinary colleges, Dr. Maccabe said, in 1991, there were about 2,000 total graduates. “By 2015, based on current enrollment figures, that number is expected to rise to about 3,000.”

And finally, a few months ago, the association asked U.S. veterinary colleges to gauge the employment status of their 2011 and 2012 graduates. As of Feb. 25, 2013, 23 of the 28 had participated in the study. For the 2011 graduates, 1,824 of 2,603 (70.1 percent) were represented, and for the 2012 graduates, 1,802 of 2,687 (67.1 percent) were represented. Results indicated that 98.4 percent of the 2011 graduates and 97.7 percent of the 2012 graduates were employed. The AAVMC study did not delve into whether the positions were full-time or part-time, the level of benefits received, or how many of the positions were jobs versus internships or residencies.

The academic association was spurred to conduct the study, according to Dr. Deborah T. Kochevar, AAVMC president and dean of the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, after reviewing preliminary results from the AVMA workforce study, pending at press time.

“It became clear that the study was arriving at employment numbers that look different from what we’re seeing at the schools. So we looked at grads from 2011 and 2012, and suffice to say, with the work of Lisa Greenhill, we did get numbers deemed by those who looked at them—including Michael Dicks (new director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division)—a legitimate, defensible pot of data,” Dr. Kochevar said. “So that was made available and showed a dramatically different conclusion than where we were heading with other databases from the workforce study.”

Chart: Veterinary student enrollment at the US colleges of veterinary medicine

One of the sets of data Dr. Kochevar is referring to is the 2012 AVMA Senior Survey, which was sent to fourth-year students four months prior to graduation. Among respondents who were seeking veterinary positions, 61.5 percent (1,482 out of 2,410) said they had received an offer of employment or advanced education, a decrease compared with findings for 2011 (74.3 percent) and 2010 (78.9 percent).

Sharing resources

Going forward, the AAVMC is now considering a proposal that would include its international and affiliate (non-COE accredited) members in certain components of the Comparative Data Report. Dr. Cyril Clark, who chairs the AAVMC data committee, said the report already has 77 data tables, which require considerable investment to prepare.

“Our overall strategy is to shrink data collection and streamline the report to focus on data that are more likely to be used on an ongoing basis. By reducing the time committed to compiling these data sets, an opportunity will be created for periodic collection of additional data sets of interest,” he said.

Other potential new data sets include resident versus nonresident students, recent graduate employment, cases treated in veterinary teaching hospital facilities and other facilities used for student teaching, and diagnostic laboratory data.

Chart: Tuition* at the US colleges of veterinary medicine

A final proposal will be developed by the data committee. Then, the deans and AAVMC committee chairs will be invited to evaluate the proposal in comparison with the existing CDR. Changes are anticipated to be finalized by June. The data committee hopes to make a formal recommendation to the AAVMC board of directors ahead of the group’s meeting in July.

The Veterinary Medical College Application Service, too, will soon see some improvements to its electronic interface as well as analysis of its data, which, Dr. Maccabe said, will be important for understanding the changing demographics of applicants.

The AAVMC—in conjunction with the AVMA—also hopes to better capture and analyze data on recent graduates, he said.

The AVMA Council on Education requires as an accreditation standard that veterinary colleges track information about their graduates from the preceding year. Now, the council is in talks with Liaison International to manage its data. The company currently operates the VMCAS and other health professions’ accreditation software and services.

Dr. Maccabe said there is a potential to link sources of data. For example, VMCAS data could automatically populate tables for the Comparative Data Report and COE self-studies.

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