Tuition transparency back up for discussion

SAVMA develops toolkit for students to use with administrators, college leaders
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Almost a fifth of veterinary graduates in 2018 accrued a quarter-million dollars' worth of educational debt or more. That doesn't include any debt they may have accumulated during their undergraduate studies.

Overall, mean educational debt accumulated during veterinary school was $152,358 for all respondents of the AVMA Senior Survey in 2018, which includes those without debt. Mean educational debt among the 82.7% of respondents who had debt was $183,014 in 2018, an increase of 9.8%, compared with $166,714 for 2017 graduates who had debt. Notably, the percentage of respondents who reported educational debt greater than or equal to $250,000 increased from approximately 13% in 2017 to nearly 19% in 2018. This increase was attributable in part to the inclusion of two new veterinary colleges—Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, and Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona—where students had higher-than-average debt compared with graduates from most other U.S. veterinary colleges, according to the survey (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2019;254:1061-1066).

So, it's no wonder veterinary students are interested to know where that money goes.

Infographic: A portion of the "What's the Story Behind Tuition?"
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, as part of the Veterinary Debt Initiative, recently created the infographic, "What's the Story Behind Tuition?" (Enlarge)

The Student AVMA House of Delegates first brought up the issue of tuition transparency at its biannual meeting during the 2018 SAVMA Symposium. Student delegates voted to create a Tuition Transparency Task Force charged with gathering information pertaining to tuition and investigating the feasibility of greater transparency. Over the past year, immediate past president Sarah Neuser and SAVMA delegates determined that it would be more beneficial for a toolkit to be created to help delegates start a conversation about tuition with their veterinary colleges' administrators rather than to do a survey.

At the SAVMA HOD meeting Aug. 4-5 in Washington, D.C., during AVMA Convention 2019, delegates received the tuition transparency toolkit.

Tuition transparency is focused on providing information regarding the calculation of tuition and fees and the allocation of funding and having a process in place for providing notification about tuition increases in a timely manner, the toolkit stated.

Also during the meeting, Dr. Andrew Maccabe, CEO of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, shared the association's tuition infographic, "What's the Story Behind Tuition?" It gives general information on the source of tuition increases at veterinary colleges, who decides how much to charge students, and how that money is spent.

A smooth transition

SAVMA delegates also passed several bylaw and manual changes, primarily for keeping the documents up to date. They also created a new one-year position—immediate past committee member—on each SAVMA House committee. "This person shall serve as a non-voting resource to ensure committee continuity through guidance and advice to avoid duplicative efforts from prior years, allowing their respective committee to serve students in the most effective capacity," according to the recommendation. Marie Bucko, SAVMA president-elect, said in the recommendation background that she had made a commitment to resolving these issues, and this was the result.

Current members of SAVMA leadership
Members of the Student AVMA House of Delegates and SAVMA chapter presidents gather Aug. 5 at the ALL for Students Breakfast to celebrate renewed funding for the program, now in its sixth year, thanks to the AVMA, AVMA PLIT, and AVMA Life. (Photo by Sara Beugen)

"So rather than reinventing the wheel each year as we transition at the conclusion of AVMA Convention ... this individual will bring historical insight to the committee to avoid duplicative efforts or encourage alternative approaches on what may have worked and what did not," the background states.

The SAVMA HOD had a number of speakers, including the following:

  • Dr. Grace Bransford, AVMA vice president, who is planning to do a virtual town hall meeting in the fall with the University of California-Davis and Lincoln Memorial.
  • Drs. Meera Chandra and Fred Lehman, participants in the 2018-19 AVMA Fellowship Program, who spoke about the importance of engaging in advocacy back home and reminded students that they have a voice.
  • Dr. Heather Case of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation's Board of Advisors, who said the Foundation wants to hear from students and is looking to have more service project opportunities for students to take part in.
  • Dr. John de Jong, AVMA immediate past president, who challenged students to advocate to the general public about the breadth and depth of the veterinary profession.

Students speaking up

Prior to the SAVMA HOD meeting, the AVMA Advocacy in Action event brought together veterinary students and veterinarians to learn about how they can get started in advocacy. Attendees heard from Dr. Ted Yoho, a veterinarian and member of the U.S. House of Representatives; a panel of veterinary advocates talking about starting and building personal and professional advocacy; and a congressional engagement expert.

In addition, the ALL for Students program—with ALL being an acronym for Achieving, Leading, and Learning—announced it had secured funding for the 2019-20 school year and presented the students with a $337,000 check, thanks to the AVMA, AVMA PLIT, and AVMF Life.

For the 2017-18 school year, 37 SAVMA chapters and associate organizations represented in the SAVMA HOD were eligible to receive $8,500 ALL for Students grants. In all, 216 events and programs were held, with over 32,000 total participants. The events must focus on one of four areas: community outreach, leadership, professional development, or well-being. Examples of some of the events held this past year include the International One Health Day Competition at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Diversity Week at St. George's University School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Meet a Mentor Research Dinner at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA selects 2018-19 congressional fellows (Sept. 1, 2018)

SAVMA talks tuition transparency (May 15, 2018)

Divided by debt (Jan. 1, 2018)

A message of support, backed by funding (Oct. 15, 2013)