Veterinary education expanding in Texas
Further proposals for increasing veterinary student numbers have recently emerged. This time they come from two Texas institutions—Texas A&M University, which wants to expand its College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences as well as partner with other institutions in the state, and Texas Tech University, which would like to create a new veterinary school.
The former says it wants to expand to boost enrollment of minority and rural students “and to increase the supply of veterinarians who focus on the livestock industry.” The latter also says it is responding to “student demand and industry needs,” particularly in the Panhandle, which feeds a third of the nation’s beef cattle and boasts expanding dairy and swine industries.
Texas is the nation’s leading producer of cattle, a $13 billion industry in 2012, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. The agency also states there are more than 248,000 ranches and farms in Texas, the most of any state in the U.S., raising large animals and food-producing livestock.
Meanwhile, the 2010 U.S. census recorded Texas as having a population of 25.1 million—an increase of 4.3 million since the year 2000. Texas’ population growth between 2000 and 2010 represents the highest increase for any U.S. state during this period. Further, Texas added more than 1.3 million people from April 2010 to the end of 2013, according to the census.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the state legislature, which convenes next year, will determine which, if any, plans to approve and how much money to allocate. That said, both universities are moving full speed ahead, and it’s already a sure bet that Texas will have a greater number of veterinary students as soon as the 2017-2018 school year.
Potential new veterinary school
Texas Tech University first announced plans on Dec. 4, 2015, for its College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources to develop a veterinary school, based at its Health Sciences Center in Amarillo, along with a doctor of veterinary medicine program at the main campus in Lubbock.
The agriculture college consists of 11 research centers and institutes all based around Lubbock, including the Burnett Center for Beef Cattle Research and Instruction, the International Center for Food Industry Excellence, and Texas Tech Equestrian Center. The college has already started to develop a Department of Veterinary Science that would house the doctoral program and serve as a link between the two campuses, said Dr. Michael D. Galyean, dean of the college.
The college has a preveterinary program with 150 to 175 students at any given time; Dr. Galyean estimates 20 to 25 apply to veterinary school each year, and of those, eight to 10 are accepted, mostly at Texas A&M.
Initial estimates for the new veterinary school start at 40 students, with most from Texas, but Dr. Galyean adds that opportunities could develop to partner with other states such as New Mexico.
Texas Tech officials said the Health Sciences Center already has the necessary expertise, facilities, and regional support. The university’s faculty and numerous schools, particularly the HSC’s School of Pharmacy, have the ability to collaborate on curriculum development, course instruction, and research, they added. For example, the pharmacy school is in the process of building a communications laboratory. Dr. Galyean says Texas Tech is strongly considering a distributive model of education, to be “cost-effective,” but, he adds, new facilities unique to the veterinary school will also likely be needed.
“We recognize it’s going to take a combination of state and philanthropic support to make this happen. We’re working on both ends,” Dr. Galyean said.
Still in the early planning stages, Texas Tech aims to have a business plan, including firm numbers on how much it plans to request from the state legislature, as soon as early April. A consultant will work on curriculum, accreditation, and other related requirements in the coming weeks.
Expansion already in the works
On Jan. 28, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in College Station revealed its plans to expand veterinary education, research, and undergraduate outreach into several regions of the state through its own network.
“All four of the A&M System universities have significant underrepresented minority student populations as well as unique animal science programs and ties to the livestock or wildlife industries in their regions,” according to its press release. The programs are as follows:
- West Texas A&M operates its own feedlot in the Panhandle. The Beef Carcass Research Center and the Nance Ranch Teaching and Research Facility are also located there.
- Tarleton State in Stephenville operates the state’s only university-based dairy as a public-private partnership and collaborates regularly with the dairy cattle industry. The university also has a four-year veterinary technology program.
- Prairie View A&M in Waller County, west of Houston, has its International Goat Research Center, one of the largest and oldest goat research programs in the nation. It specializes in the areas of genetics, reproductive physiology, nutrition, and veterinary health.
- Texas A&M-Kingsville’s Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in South Texas is the leading wildlife research organization in Texas. It also has a four-year veterinary technology program with a newly built facility.
But first, the Higher Education Coordinating Board would need to grant permission for the initiative. The goal is to prepare students to transfer to the flagship to pursue a DVM degree. The veterinary college has already been working with Prairie View A&M to create a memorandum of understanding on admitting Prairie View students, who are largely African-American. And, so far, TAMU has designated recurring funds for two veterinary faculty members and staff support at West Texas A&M. The new faculty there will do field research, serve as mentors and preveterinary advisers, and teach undergraduate students.
Then, the legislative appropriations would be needed to duplicate the efforts at West Texas A&M at the additional three sites.
Once the initiative were completed, “We would look at parts of the DVM curriculum that could optimally be offered at these distant sites,” said Dr. Eleanor Green, dean of the veterinary college, noting any off-site teaching would need to be approved by the AVMA Council on Education.
Also as part of its expansion plan, Texas A&M’s veterinary college is nearing completion of a $120 million construction project.
The Veterinary & Biomedical Education Complex is scheduled to be finished in June, allowing students to start classes there in the fall. Dr. Green calls it a “very modern, technologically advanced, transformational learning center.”
It features four large lecture halls that hold 250 students each but can be configured into two 500-seat auditoriums. The complex will also have three 100-seat auditoriums, which also have removable, folding walls. And there will be eight smaller classrooms in addition to multiple laboratories.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is a community of learners and a community of scholars. We have it designed where people can come together; it’s all interconnected,” Dr. Green said.
Money for the project came entirely from the Permanent University Fund, which was established in the Texas Constitution of 1876 as a public endowment contributing to the support of the institutions of the Texas A&M and University of Texas systems.
The new building allows Texas A&M to expand its class size by up to 30 students, starting with the 2017-2018 school year at the earliest. Most if not all the new seats would go toward in-state students, she predicts. A tuition increase isn’t part of the current plan.
“With our growth in population, we expect the demand for veterinarians to grow in concert with that, not only with livestock but also with other avenues for veterinarians, which we hope to expose students to also,” she said. “We think it’s a modest number in terms of Texas and in terms of opportunities for veterinarians today and in the future.”
Efforts to promote diversity
The two institutions’ plans may have been announced in December and January, but they’ve been in the works for a while.
As far back as the ’70s, Texas Tech tried to create a veterinary school. Dr. Galyean said the proposal never got off the ground “for a variety of reasons, a lot of which was related to funding choices people had to make.”
TAMU’s veterinary college, which celebrates its centennial this year, hasn’t expanded enrollment for many years; it remains at 132, with up to 10 students a year from out of state.
Dr. Green said that with the new complex set to open, “We have no constraints now to fill all the veterinary educational needs for the state at a fraction of the cost of what it would take to build a new veterinary school.”
She continued, “We’ve been working on this plan for six years, and we have collaborated with Texas Tech and will continue to do so, but we need to work on this partnership with the four universities first, and once we get that done, we can go back and talk about what else is needed and if there are further ways to partner.”
Part of the impetus behind TAMU’s expansion came from a 2009 report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (jav.ma/texasreport) that said there was a need to enlarge the pipeline of rural-based veterinarians to better serve the livestock industry along with wildlife interests. According to the education board’s report, in 2005, the veterinary college “did an informal survey of its incoming students, and a majority indicated that they intended to be food and fiber (or large animal) veterinarians and to practice in a rural area. But by the end of the four years of veterinary study, most students had changed their minds and, years later, it appears that even fewer still have followed through with their early intentions.”
The report also outlined the need to increase the number of underrepresented minorities entering the profession. Ultimately, the board reported there was no need for a second veterinary school but that Texas A&M’s veterinary college could increase enrollment to meet future state needs.
In response, the Texas A&M System began beefing up its agriculture and animal health programs at the four universities while planning the new veterinary teaching complex at College Station. The veterinary college also continued its efforts to attract minorities and students interested in food animal and rural mixed practice.
TAMU’s veterinary college expanded the bovine teaching herd at its Riverside campus, developed a faculty mentoring program for graduate students interested in food animal practice, started a rural practice job fair for graduates, and established a program for undergraduates and high school students interested in working with rural veterinarians.
Dr. Green estimates one-third of students who enter the veterinary college are interested in food animal medicine or mixed practice. “And then we do lose some along the way. One reason is, with students learning about all the career options available (in veterinary medicine), many change their minds just because they’re exposed to things they had not been exposed to before. We expect to lose some, but we’re hoping some programs we have will keep those numbers growing.”
The program also has made great efforts to promote diversity. It has a Council on Diversity and Professionalism, a Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity chapter, and a Lesbian and Gay VMA chapter. It is the only veterinary college in the country where cultural competency and medical Spanish are taught within a required course, according to TAMU’s annual diversity plan accountability report. And in 2014, the veterinary college chose specific areas to address, including comprehensive diversity training programs for faculty, staff, administration, and students; support for individuals with visible and invisible disabilities or special needs; and enhanced recruitment efforts for underrepresented minority students. Furthermore, it has adjusted its admissions process to help level the playing field for students from diverse backgrounds.
“There are a lot of reasons why GPA wouldn’t be what it is (or should be) for some students. By weighting the admissions process a lot toward veterinary experiences and toward cultural awareness and competency, which is in our interview process, we are able to broaden the student body more than if we just focus on grades,” Dr. Green said.
Currently, TAMU’s veterinary college ranks near the middle among the 28 U.S. veterinary schools on representation of underrepresented minority students—who constitute about 18 percent of its student body. It is one of the top schools in terms of Hispanic representation, with its first- through third-year classes ranking first, second, or third in those respective classes in the country in that category.
Whether either of the universities’ proposals will sizably increase underrepresented minorities or the number of rural and food animal veterinarians within the state remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is the impact these initiatives would have on the profession and veterinary education nationally.
Michael Dicks, PhD, director of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, wrote a report earlier this year, “Impact on the veterinary workforce of more veterinary school seats,” in light of Texas Tech’s announcement in addition to other plans to open new veterinary schools (jav.ma/seatimpact).
He projects if the rate of increase in the number of seats at existing schools continues the long-term trend of 2 percent annually and two new schools are added, then the combination of new seats and declining applicants will bring the applicant-to-seat ratio to an estimated 1.04:1 by 2025. It currently sits at 1.6:1.
Further, Dr. Dicks predicts that in this scenario, the starting salaries of veterinarians would be adversely impacted by 2025 to the tune of more than $3,000 per year per veterinarian.
“This decline in income would exacerbate the existing disparity between growth rates in income and debt, causing the debt-to-income ratio to rise. The rising debt-to-income ratio will likely accelerate the reduction in applicants, perpetuating the potentially negative effects on the market for veterinary education,” Dr. Dicks wrote.
He continued, “Whether new schools can sustain their programs under this increasing competition will depend on their ability to produce graduates at a cost less than those currently doing so, or producing graduates with a greater ability to increase the demand for veterinary services.”
Related JAVMA content:
Major construction project on horizon at Texas A&M (Aug. 15, 2012)