COLLEGE STATION, Texas – A new report issued by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board concludes that a second veterinary college would be expensive to create and operate and is unnecessary in the state of Texas, particularly with the opening of a $120 million veterinary teaching complex at Texas A&M University.
“The high cost of establishing a new veterinary school would outweigh the potential benefits to the state, given the small to moderate workforce demand and the issue that building a new school would not guarantee that any of the graduates would practice on livestock, which is the state’s principal area of need, but there are more cost-effective ways of addressing the need for medical care for food animals in Texas,” the study concluded. The staff report was presented at Thursday’s meeting of the Coordinating Board and released to the media today.
“I concur with the overall conclusion because it confirms the Coordinating Board’s past recommendations to the Texas Legislature,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “It is clear they were diligent and thoughtful in their study, which has resulted in a substantive, data-driven report about veterinary medical education in Texas. I believe this report bolsters our announcement in January for a judicious expansion of veterinary education, research and undergraduate outreach into several regions of the state through four Texas A&M System universities.”
In January, Texas A&M University announced partnerships with West Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Tarleton State University that would add veterinary faculty and researchers at those universities to support the state’s important agricultural industries while focusing on increasing the number of successful applicants to veterinary college from those regions.
The partnerships address two ongoing concerns repeated in the new study: Increasing the number of underrepresented minority students in veterinary college and ensuring a supply of large animal veterinarians practicing in the state’s rural areas.
All four of the A&M System universities have significant underrepresented minority student populations as well as unique animal science programs and ties to the livestock or wildlife industries in their regions.
“The thought is that students from those regions are more likely to return home to practice veterinary medicine,” said Green. “Our proposal is the only one that tries to address all the key concerns, including achieving greater diversity in the veterinary profession, increasing the number of large animal and rural veterinarians and meeting the unique needs of multiple regions of the state. And we do it at a fraction of the cost of creating a new veterinary medical education program from scratch.”
The creation of the regional partnerships became possible with this fall’s opening of a state-of-the-art veterinary teaching complex at College Station that allows the veterinary college to accept more applicants, particularly from the four regional universities. The $120 million facility, which is located at the heart of the university’s main campus and works closely with the Texas A&M Health Science Center, was funded from the Permanent University Fund.
Texas A&M’s decision to invest in the new complex was prompted by a 2009 report issued by the Coordinating Board, which similarly concluded that no new veterinary school was needed and encouraged Texas A&M to expand its enrollment. At the time, the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education warned that the college’s existing facilities could not handle such an expansion. With the opening of the new complex, there are no longer any constraints on the college’s ability to meet the state’s future veterinary educational needs.
“The new building will accommodate a first-year, class-size increase of 20 to 30 students easily, with more room to grow, should there be a future need,” the Coordinating Board study noted.
Texas A&M University already has hired veterinary faculty assigned to West Texas A&M and is asking the Legislature for an appropriation to further support all of the partnerships.
The veterinary faculty at those universities will teach students, further support animal agriculture and mentor students to successfully enter the rigorous veterinary curriculum. They will also offer relevant veterinary courses on site.
“For the sake of taxpayers and our students and alumni, it is vital that we approach the expansion of veterinary education strategically and judiciously,” Green said.
Michael Dicks, the director of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Economics Division, issued a report in December 2015 concluding that the creation of new veterinary schools could have an adverse impact on the starting salaries of veterinarians.
“This decline in income would exacerbate the existing disparity between growth rates in income and debt, causing the debt-to-income ratio to rise. The rising debt-to-income ratio will likely accelerate the reduction in applicants, perpetuating the potentially negative effects on the market for veterinary education,” he wrote.
The Coordinating Board study noted that tuition and fees at Texas A&M’s veterinary college are not only below the national average but in the bottom third of all U.S. veterinary schools. Texas A&M veterinary students already have the lowest debt-to-income ratio in the nation.
The report also said that the workforce demand for veterinarians is “moderate and closely aligned with supply.”