Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is the smallest program in the country. Most of the other programs have increased class size steadily over time, OSU hasn’t. Now with revenue shortfalls occurring University wide, the Vet Med program turns to a plan that is meeting with resistance from students and faculty alike.
The program accepts 56 students per class and wants to increase revenue by adding students. The increase would see 14 new students, all from out of state, who have a tuition rate almost double that of in-state ($40, 690 to $21,386 per year). It would generate 2.2 million extra dollars per 4-year class. There is also a proposal for a large expansion of the school’s facilities. The new facilities would include 25,000 sq feet of new classrooms, a new microscopy lab, surgery suite, student commons, seven new offices and a new conference room. Six to eight additional faculty members would also be added as part of the plan.
The initiative has been talked about since early 2010 when funding cuts hit the program. Only recently, fall of 2011, the dean, Dr. Cyril Clarke, ramped up the initiative. It was then that he sent out a faculty survey that returned a thin majority in favor of the expansion. He then set a design firm to creating the plans for it. Concerns of the dissenting faculty range from the fragility of the current job market to the increased strain on the faculty and quality of education by added students.
Concerns about the veterinary professional job market were cast in a harsh spotlight by a February 2013 New York Times article by David Segal, which pointed out the rapidly increasing debt to salary ratio of new grads and the rapidly decreasing employment rate for the profession. It struck a chord throughout the veterinary community. Vet schools responded with press releases, editorials and letters to students. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) responded by releasing a study it had already commissioned. According to them, the problems highlighted in Segal’s article were not news.
The study results essentially reinforced the notion that there is a significant surplus of veterinarians entering the workforce. Before the economic downturn, people were more likely to spend money on the health of their pets, but now expensive veterinary services are more often passed up. It revealed there are currently 90,200 practicing veterinarians in the country, and jobs for only 78,950. With class sizes across the country rising, OSU had bucked that trend. It’s the only DVM program in the state and it’s very selective. The dean has said that to match the enrollment increase revenue, the veterinary hospital would have to treat more animals by up to 40%, without hiring new staff. It’s a tall order for the teaching hospital.
John DenHerder sees opinions both for and against the proposal. He’s a second year student and president elect of SCAVMA (Student Chapter of the AVMA) at OSU. He was at a panel held for all the Vet Med students and faculty on May 29th, and called the questions submitted by students to the seven doctor panel “thought provoking.” He felt the faculty echoed the concerns of the students that adding to class size could not only damage the integrity of their education, but their ability to get hired when they graduate. Most students at the meeting on May 29th were against the increases. Others see the surplus as being mostly vets who can’t cut it in the professional environment, and that OSU’s high quality and standards (7% of this year’s first year students will have to repeat the year) prepare them for a competitive job market.
On June 6th, there was another faculty meeting to gauge support, and on June 7th, SCAVMA sent out a survey to the students to gauge theirs. The opinions of both students and faculty are going to be important factors in whether or not the plan goes forward.
“He’s made it clear on a couple of occasions about this proposal, he doesn’t want to go forward with it if it’s not going to be supported,” says DenHerder about Dean Clarke.
It’s hard for students who struggled to get in to the school and profession themselves to exclude others from reaching that same goal, but as DenHerder points out, those out of state students will also have a much higher debt burden. Other ideas to raise revenue, such as converting students to five or even six year vet school tracks have been met with even cooler reception, as have the prospects of tuition increases. The students are expected to see a 4.5% tuition increase this year, up from the 3% increases they had been seeing, but still lower than the national average.
There are bright spots in the studies on employment outlook as well, and students remain confident.
“There are pockets and communities where there is a need, and different areas of veterinary medicine where there is a need,” says DenHerder, “I’m still optimistic. I haven’t been knocked to the ground yet.”
By Ygal Kaufman