Earlier this year, the Economics of Veterinary Medical Education Summit, or Fix the Debt summit, was held to bring together stakeholders to develop conceptual solutions and define clear steps to reduce the burden of educational debt on veterinary students and new veterinarians.
According to the 2016 Report on the Market for Veterinary Education by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the AVMA, the mean full-time starting salary accepted before graduation in 2015 was $70,117. However, the median educational debt in 2015 for veterinary graduates with debt was slightly more than $156,000.
Dr. Michael Chaddock, associate dean of administration at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Caroline Cantner, assistant director for student initiatives in the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, spoke at a session Aug. 6 during AVMA Convention 2016 to provide an update on actions taken since the summit. MSU hosted the April summit, the AAVMC and AVMA were co-sponsors, and 180 key stakeholders were involved from all areas of the profession.
The summit yielded a collective goal: to reduce the debt-to-income ratio from 2:1 to 1.4:1 by eliminating interest during school, eliminating excessive student debt, increasing salaries by 10 percent, and reducing educational expenses by 10 percent.
Stakeholders then identified the following 10 recommendations to attain that goal:
Create national partnerships and campaigns to raise funds for scholarships.
Integrate professional skills and competencies throughout the professional curriculum.
Reduce the length of the educational program in the preveterinary or professional curriculum.
Improve the onboarding of new employees and create a toolkit for best practices.
Promote veterinary preventive care among staff within practices, opening opportunities for recent graduates going into clinical medicine to earn more income.
Improve alternative veterinary career awareness for students.
Enhance student financial literacy training and create materials.
Promote entrepreneurship, including practice ownership.
Advocate for legislation to help reduce student debt.
Minimize the cost of borrowing.
Attendees from the summit have taken a few actions to date.
Representatives of the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service created a video highlighting alternative veterinary careers. It is available here.
Dr. John Baker, dean of Michigan State’s veterinary college, has done things such as convince the provost to lower the rate of increase in tuition from 4 percent to 2 percent and give every out-of-state student who has applied for aid $1,000 this year, among other things.
The AVMA and AAVMC are identifying national and local leaders to advance efforts on all the recommendations. The associations are also working to establish a reporting structure for each group assigned to one of the 10 recommendations to collect updates and spread the word of what is working, what isn’t, and what progress is being made.
“We are asking everybody to become involved. There is room in the tent for everyone to do things” either individually or working together, Dr. Chaddock said.
For example, Dr. Cantner recommended that veterinarians join the AVMA Congressional Advocacy Network. With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act coming up in the next session of Congress, she said, “The next year and a half is critical for being able to advocate for these programs” related to student loans.
The next update will be provided at the AVMA Economic Summit Oct. 24-25 in Schaumburg, Illinois.