Summit to explore student debt–related issues, solutions

AVMA, AAVMC, Michigan State picking up where NAVMEC left off
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Two meetings taking place this fall and next spring will focus on assessing the impact of student debt on the veterinary profession and what can be done to help those affected. The AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Michigan State University have agreed to partner in hosting the events.

First, a working group of up to 25 people will develop recommendations on how to better address educational economic issues. This will take place Nov. 9-10 at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. The goals of this initial gathering include the following:

  • Understand and define the issues and problems around the costs of veterinary education for students.
  • Determine what resources are needed.
  • Begin to prioritize the problems.
  • Strategize on crafting definable, concrete, and accountable action plans.
  • Determine a course of action, next summits and objectives, and finances needed.

The second meeting, a summit to be held in April 2016 at Michigan State, will involve up to 200 people who will respond to the recommendations. When finalized, the recommendations will be directed to the veterinary colleges, the AVMA, and other organizations to address.

Dr. Carlson-Lammers
Dr. Rena Carlson-Lammers, AVMA Board of Directors District XI representative, listens during the Sept. 10-12 Board meeting at AVMA headquarters. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

“What we’re talking about is student education economic issues, which goes beyond debt. These meetings will discuss all relevant factors, from starting salaries to the cost of education to the debt students incur and how they service it,” said AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven at the AVMA Board of Directors’ meeting, Sept. 10-12.

High student debt loads have been giving veterinary students and newly minted veterinarians headaches for some time now, and with good reason.

The mean educational debt for recent veterinary graduates has grown by approximately $6,854 annually over the past 10 years and stood at an estimated $135,000 in 2014, more than twice the mean starting annual income for new private-practice veterinarians, according to the AVMA 2015 Report on Veterinary Debt and Income, published this past May.

That’s not surprising, considering the mean tuition at U.S. veterinary colleges continues to increase, albeit at a slower pace in recent years, according to the 2014-2015 AAVMC annual data report. Resident tuition grew 21.3 percent from 2006-2010, compared with 12.3 percent from 2010-2015; the mean for 2015 was $22,448. Nonresident tuition, which includes private universities’ rates, increased 10.3 percent from 2006-2010, compared with 5.6 percent from 2010-2015; the mean for 2015 was $46,352.

The full impact on the profession may not be felt yet, but veterinary colleges are already starting to see some harm. Dr. John Baker, dean of the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, wrote a white paper on the topic earlier this year. He cited concerns about the ratio of student debt to graduate starting salary increasing to a point where it may impact the numbers and quality of applicants. In fact, this is already becoming a reality as the national applicant-to-seat ratio hit an all-time low of 1.5:1 in 2012 and currently sits at 1.6:1. For the past few decades, that figured hovered in the 2:1 to 2.8:1 range, according to AAVMC data.

Drs. Rawson and Bishop (left) and Drs. Meyer and Montgomery (right)
Engaging in Board deliberations: (photo at left) Drs. Chet Rawson, District VI, and George Bishop, District X, and (photo at right) Drs. Tom Meyer, president-elect, and Timothy Montgomery, House Advisory Committee chair (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Dr. Baker also noted strategic goals from the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium convened by the AAVMC in 2008 as motivation to take action. One of the five goals was “Ensure that an economically viable system for veterinary medical education is sustained.” As part of that, NAVMEC called for the AAVMC and AVMA to “convene workshops for educators and employers to look for new ways to address the issue of the ratio of student debt to graduate starting salary.”

That idea finally bore fruit when leaders from Michigan State, AAVMC, and AVMA met in March at the AAVMC Annual Conference and again in June at an AAVMC-AVMA joint meeting to discuss the goal of promoting and providing an economically viable education system for both veterinary colleges and veterinary students. Talks led to the idea of hosting a student debt summit.

Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, executive director of the AAVMC, said, “We already know a great deal about this issue, and a lot of information will be presented at the AVMA Economic Summit in October. We want to focus on solutions and action items at the summit in April.”

Dr. DeHaven told the Board he anticipates a funding request at the April Board meeting, and in the meantime, the AVMA will also look for corporate sponsors.