JAVMA News logo

March 01, 2020

Taking steps against educational debt

Session features new playbook of resources for veterinary associations
Published on February 12, 2020

The educational debt crisis was a key topic of conversation among students, association leaders, and veterinary college representatives at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 10 in Chicago.

The session “Beyond Dollars and Cents: Leadership in Student Debt Strategies” included discussion of what the overall educational debt in the profession looks like, types of support associations can provide, strategies for leadership, and what effective financial resources are being and should be offered.

Bridgette Bain, PhD
Bridgette Bain, PhD, associate director of analytics in the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division, talks about the latest educational debt figures during a session hosted by the Veterinary Debt Initiative at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference.

Specifically, the Veterinary Medical Association Executives compiled a list of resources to assist state and other veterinary associations in creating educational debt strategies.

Ralph Johnson, CEO of VMAE, announced the Ready. Set. Go! Tackle Educational Debt Initiative, which includes a step-by-step guide providing a menu of options that VMAs can take.

“We all own this problem,” Johnson said. “As VMAs, we must act.”

The guide includes the following suggestions:

  • Start a conversation by the board of directors about what role the VMA will take in the debt crisis, how to create action against the issue, how to engage volunteers, and resources the VMA can use for this issue.
  • Speak with early-career veterinarians about educational debt and how it affects their lives.
  • Commit to an action that reflects VMA strategies.
  • Take action by, for example, creating an educational debt resource center, spreading the word, or creating a scholarship fund.
  • Track and measure progress, and adjust actions based on best practices.

The guide is available courtesy of the Veterinary Debt Initiative, which is led by the AVMA, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and VMAE, and is focused on helping veterinarians pursue financially sustainable careers. 

“I’m so pleased VMAE has put together such a comprehensive playbook of resources that we can use to address veterinary educational debt,” said Candace Joy, executive director of the Washington State VMA, to JAVMA News. “I plan on incorporating many of the excellent tools and strategies provided so my organization can help our members tackle an issue that touches all areas of the profession.”

Joy offered several examples during the session of what the Washington State VMA currently does to help members with educational debt, such as offering the services of a financial consultant as well as offering new graduates the opportunity to review employee contracts with a lawyer.

Jack Advent, executive director of the Ohio VMA, told JAVMA News that educational debt can be an overwhelming topic for a state VMA to start working on because it is a complex and daunting issue.

“Having a broad list of possible ideas such as those in the playbook can be extremely helpful in creating a launch point or supplementing what you are already doing as an organization,” he said.

The VLC session also included information about the effectiveness of financial literacy programs.

Dr. Caroline Cantner, director for professional development at the AAVMC, said during the session that the profession needs to rethink how it teaches financial literacy.

“Lecture learning doesn’t lead to change,” she said, adding that financial literacy resources need to include information about the emotional side of money.

“What is your emotional relationship with money?” Dr. Cantner asked.

What veterinary educational debt looks like when broken down by the numbers and a discussion on the overall educational debt load in society also came up during the session.

Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, CEO of the AAVMC, spoke during the session about the cost of a veterinary education.

The cost of tuition is the biggest factor in educational debt, but tuition is set by the university, and the cost results from a “systematic disinvestment in higher education,” he said.

In the past 10 years, state funding for public colleges has been substantially reduced.

Public colleges received about $6.6 billion less in state funding in 2018 than in 2008, after adjusting for inflation, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank. States have made efforts to reinvest in higher education, but tuition at public colleges remains high. The mean annual tuition at four-year public colleges has risen $2,708 nationally since 2008. More data and information on the price of higher education and reduced state funding can be found at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website.

Educational debt is a significant issue in veterinary medicine, but debt doesn’t just affect veterinarians.

The overall outstanding U.S. educational debt is $1.50 trillion, according to the Household Debt and Credit Report for the third quarter of 2019 from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a new website for information on federal student aid that combines information from other federal sites for students.

Along with the resources from VMAE, the AVMA has tools to help veterinarians handle their educational debt.