Arizona veterinary program being reconceptualized

State legislature has denied funding twice, but program still aims for 2015 enrollment
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A setback this spring for the proposed Veterinary Medical & Surgical Program at the University of Arizona has forced program leaders to rethink their strategy.

Nearly two years have passed since word first came of a veterinary program at the state’s only land-grant university. The university’s board of regents voted Sept. 27, 2012, to ask the state legislature to authorize $3 million for planning and staging of a veterinary program in Tucson. University officials subsequently asked the state legislature for a more modest $250,000 state appropriation for the initial study in spring 2013. The proposal went to Gov. Janice K. Brewer for her signature, but she did not include it in her 2013-2014 budget request.

The board of regents then approved requesting $4.2 million in October 2013 to develop within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Arizona the four-year Veterinary Medical & Surgical Program, which comprises a year of preclinical studies and then a three-year curriculum that is increasingly more clinical. This past January, the veterinary program received a consultative site visit from the AVMA Council on Education.

The second round of funding requests to the state legislature took place this spring. A little more than $4 million was sought to hire the necessary faculty and renovate facilities in existing buildings being used by the college’s undergraduate program in veterinary science. But Gov. Brewer signed the state’s $9.2 billion budget plan on April 11 with no money specifically allocated for the veterinary program.

In a letter to the board of regents, UA President Ann Weaver Hart wrote that the university was disappointed that the state chose not to support the veterinary program but that “we have been thrilled and inspired by the responses we have received from the veterinary medicine profession and accrediting body, from the Arizona agricultural community, and from other constituents in and beyond our state.”

Later, she wrote, “I have charged the UA team to go back to the drawing board and reconceptualize our proposal under a new business plan that relies on philanthropy and multiple sources of revenue, including more out-of-state and international students, yet makes our revolutionary and innovative proposal a reality.”

Dr. Shane Burgess, dean of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that the university would select about 35 Arizonans for the veterinary class, with no number yet assigned for total class enrollment.

Horse out to pasture
The 160-acre Campus Agricultural Center, located 4 miles north of the University of Arizona’s main campus, is one of the university’s existing teaching and research facilities that will be used for the UA Veterinary Medical & Surgical Program. (Courtesy of University of Arizona/Judy A. Davis)

Dean Burgess said the tuition figure was still being worked out but that “Tuition will be significantly less than what Arizonans pay now (to go out of state). What we’re doing is modeling scenarios to find a sweet spot.” At press time in mid-May, he added, “The latest I have is it will go from about one-third to less than half the cost of out-of-state tuition for all four years.”

Arizona already has one veterinary college at Midwestern University in Glendale, which received a letter of reasonable assurance of accreditation from the AVMA Council on Education in mid-2013 and is admitting its first class of students this fall.

Leaders of the University of Arizona veterinary program say it has something different to offer in that, among other things, students will be able to graduate more quickly and at less cost.

A sort of hybrid between the European and Caribbean veterinary college models, the program allows students who have met the prerequisites and have a sufficiently high GPA to directly enter the two-semester preclinical program. From there, they will apply for acceptance into the three-year, year-round veterinary program, during which they will spend a total of nine semesters obtaining their veterinary degree—six semesters of a preclinical program followed by 48 weeks of distributive clinical rotations.

“Although it is possible for a highly motivated high school student to be eligible for our pre-professional program, we expect the typical student admitted into the pre-professional program to have two years of college before entry,” Dr. Burgess wrote in the February issue of Arizona Veterinary News.

There are six different tracks by which a high school graduate could complete the veterinary program, each with different tuition costs.

Dean Burgess told JAVMA that on the basis of projected models, about 6.5 percent of high school students nationally would qualify for the pre-professional program today. But when the program begins and more students become aware of it, he predicts up to 19 percent of high school students could become eligible by completing the prerequisites.

The Veterinary Medical & Surgical Program aims to enroll its first class in fall 2015. In the meantime, administrators will address the AVMA COE site team’s initial report and then request a comprehensive site visit in the hopes of receiving a letter of reasonable assurance from the COE.

Dr. Burgess said the consultative site visit in January was “incredibly valuable.” “It showed our plan is viable, and obviously it was a consultative site visit, so we didn’t have absolutely everything we need, and we don’t expect to right now, but we’ve been given a clear road map to where we’re going now,” Dr. Burgess said.

He and other university officials plan to further refine and address the program’s plans, curriculum, clinical partners, and funding methods.

“The legislature didn’t give us the money, so we will find another way to do it,” Dr. Burgess said. “We’re still doing what we said we were going to do.”

Related JAVMA content:

Veterinary education continues expanding (Nov. 1, 2012)