There are two ways for schools to alleviate the crushing student loan debt faced by vets entering the workforce with loans double their starting salary, says Dr Willie Reed, longtime Dean of the Purdue. University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“You are keeping the tuition flat or increasing the scholarships,” he said firmly.
Purdue University, under the leadership of its famously frugal president, Mitch Daniels, has chosen to do both, including freezing tuition fees at the West Lafayette, Indiana campus for a decade.
The goal – which keeps tuition and vet fees for Indiana residents at around $ 20,000 per year and $ 44,700 per year for non-residents, with an occasional increase in fees – aims to make more affordable education, especially for those living in the state. At veterinary college, half of Purdue’s students are Hoosiers.
Like many in the profession, Reed views school debt as the Achilles heel of the profession, and supports his institution’s commitment to affordability. Across the country, veterinary education is more expensive than ever – between $ 19,616 and $ 72,292 per year in tuition and fees, depending on the program and the student’s residency status – leaving most aspiring practitioners with a difficult choice: give up their dream career or risk accumulating sky-high debt.
Neither is acceptable, as far as Reed is concerned: “Don’t exclude people from an education – that’s so important”.
It is not easy. As Daniels moves forward on an affordability mission, Reed must balance an annual operating budget of $ 75 million while building a $ 108 million veterinary teaching hospital, slated to open in March. To aid its efforts, an annual state allocation of $ 18 million goes directly to the program. There was a slight increase in income from the existing teaching hospital and diagnostic lab, and donations from fundraising increased “so we were able to manage,” Reed said.
Many other veterinary programs are not so lucky. According to a State Higher Education Finance report released this year, public funding for higher education in general has not fully recovered from the cuts made during the 2008 recession, putting pressure on tuition fee revenues. . This means raising tuition fees and borrowing more to pay them. Total student loan debt in the United States is $ 1.71 trillion, spread among 45 million borrowers with average monthly payments of around $ 300.
“Debt grows steadily, and it’s not unique to veterinary medicine,” said Bridgette Bain, associate director of analysis at the American Veterinary Medical Association, at a recent online symposium. “WE student debt has grown by 100% over the past decade, across all disciplines.
“We certainly don’t see tuition fees being cut,” she said.
Veterinary borrowers in 2020 had an average debt of $ 188,853 at the end of their schooling, a 43% increase from 2011, according to AVMA figures. The highest individual debt reported by fourth-year students who responded to an annual AVMA survey last year was half a million dollars.
The average debt for the veterinarian class who graduated from Purdue last year was $ 145,336, Reed said, and 88% of the class received help from the university in the form of scholarships and grants.
“Universities are not cutting tuition fees,” he said. “At the end of the day, for Purdue, I think keeping the tuition flat was the best we could have hoped for. It is expensive to train veterinary students.”
Going to Purdue vet school is cheaper than most of the 33 schools in the United States, the American Association of Veterinary Colleges reports. Looking at the 2020 data in the group’s cost comparison tool, four years of state tuition at Purdue cost $ 80,734, the most affordable option for Indiana residents and the program. the cheapest in the country taking into account the costs and living expenses. For non-residents, the program ranked sixth among the most economical options over four years, with tuition fees of $ 180,089; $ 284,492 including living expenses.
A education cost map by the VIN Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Veterinary Information Network, the parent company of the VIN News Service, classifies Purdue in the same way.
According to data from the AAVMC and the VIN Foundation, only one U.S. program charges its residents less: Four years of veterinary education at North Carolina State University costs $ 78,479. The most expensive program in the country is at Midwestern University. The private four-year program in Glendale, Arizona alone manages nearly $ 260,000 in tuition. Add in living expenses and expenses, and the cost to attend the Midwestern could exceed $ 420,000.
When asked if Purdue’s flat rate tuition piqued the curiosity of Reed’s colleagues in other programs, the dean responded with amusement. “You’d think I’d be inundated with questions from other colleges, but I wasn’t,” Reed said with a laugh. “I don’t think I got a single question on how you do it.
“But it’s okay,” he continued. “We have much to be proud of. Our office of engagement receives multi-million dollar grants from NIH [National Institutes of Health]. Our diversity programs are exceptional: the last two classes have been 30% under-represented minorities. And there is no end date to keep our tuition flat. I don’t see it going away any time soon. ”
Last month, Purdue University administrators approved a tuition fee freeze until the 2022-2023 academic year.
Easier said than done
Tackling the student debt crisis was cited as a goal of a new veterinary school, the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, during its early stages of development in 2016. The program opened last August with 100 students, becoming the 31st country veterinary school. Rather than following a traditional four-year schedule, the University of Arizona curriculum is compressed into three years including summers, saving students time and money.
College officials initially targeted tuition fees at around $ 28,000 per year. They later determined it was not financially feasible, so the Arizona Board of Regents has set tuition fees at a much higher level: $ 45,000 per year for residents and $ 70,000 for non-residents.
Dr. Julie Funk, hired as program dean in 2019, says she wishes she could do more to cut student costs, citing a divestment in higher education by state legislatures nationwide, including Arizona. With little financial support from the state apart from an investment of $ 8 million in 2016 to develop the college physical facilities, the program relies heavily on student tuition and start-up support for the university to operate.
“The way we price our tuition, it’s a model that allows us to go from a startup to a breakeven point somewhere between seven and 10 years old,” she said, noting that the rates reflect the cost of the resources required to start a veterinary school.
“To be honest, we’ve only just started generating income,” Funk continued. “It’s like starting any other business. The university had to take funds from other initiatives and invest in the college, which we appreciate. But we also have to cover the cost of having a medical college. veterinarian. This includes the cost of having faculty, staff, student resources, facilities, and animals. “
Funk came to Arizona from Michigan State University, where she was Associate Dean for Professional College Programs and Student Achievement. In this capacity, she was at the forefront of the Summit on the Economics of Veterinary Medical Education, more commonly known as the Fix the Debt Summit, which brought together 180 participants at the MSU campus in 2016 think about ways to reduce student debt.
The summit set a collective goal to reduce the debt-to-income ratio from 2: 1 to 1.4: 1 through a combination of measures, including obtaining interest relief on student loans, reduce excessive student debt, increase labor salaries by 10%, and reduce university spending by 10%.
However, enthusiasm for the initiative appears to have waned in many schools. “Fixing the debt,” said Funk, “is difficult and really complex.” Many academics are focused on state allocations and fundraising, maintaining accreditation, staff issues, and running a program amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They just don’t have the bandwidth to tackle the problem comprehensively, she said.
“I don’t think people care,” Funk said. “I think it’s because there are no quick and easy solutions. I think there are places where we have started initiatives, but other things are much more difficult. the only cost of training in veterinary medicine is one of those things. “
The focus, she said, has been on finding ways to cut overhead and invest in students.
“We’re really trying to leverage existing resources on campus, so that’s not all de novo construction and development, and the other part is really focused on the results of the first day so that the students are immediately productive in the practice, ”said Funk. “At the moment, that’s what we are capable of doing.
Tomorrow: How Are Debt-Free Veterinary Students Curing?