Utah Regents to vote on new veterinary medical program

Plan requires millions of dollars in support from Legislature

December 8, 2010 (published)
By Stephen W. Spero

The Utah State Board of Regents is set to vote tomorrow afternoon on a proposal to allow Utah State University (USU) to offer education in veterinary medicine. If passed, students could enroll in the new veterinary medical program in 2012.

As proposed by university leaders, USU would accept for each class 30 veterinary students — 20 state residents and 10 non-residents — for a two-year program. Those students would complete their final two years of veterinary medical education, including clinically oriented studies, at Washington State University's (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine.

In-state tuition is slated for $18,100 a year and $45,000 a year for non-residents. It is expected to rise 7 percent annually.

A reason students would have to split their time between two universities is that WSU has a veterinary teaching hospital on campus, unlike USU. Hands-on clinical training in such costly facilities is required of those earning a DVM degree. USU already has a large pre-veterinary program. Supporters of establishing a DVM program in Utah believe it could lead to increased numbers of practitioners in a state that reports areas underserved by large animal veterinarians. The deal also benefits WSU because its veterinary student class size reportedly has reached capacity; expanding all four years would require adding new classrooms and equipment.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) has a similar arrangement with Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine (ISU), which hosts UNL veterinary students during their final two years of education.

The USU Board of Trustees approved plans for USU to offer veterinary medical program in October. It has been green-lighted by a Board of Regents committee as well as William A. Sederburg, Utah's commissioner of higher education.

So far, leaders within the USU system appear optimistic that the program will move ahead. “I expect it to pass,” said Dr. Kenneth White, dean of USU's Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences.

If the 18-member Board of Regents approves the plan, the proposal will go to the Utah Legislature for funding. USU is asking for $2.1 million from the state in the first year and $1.7 million in subsequent years, according to Sederburg’s report to the Regents. The Legislature also would have to commit to cover the $1.3 million out-of-state tuition costs that WSU would charge, White said. That money would not apply to the non-Utah residents in the program, he added.

Getting such funds appropriated likely will present a challenge considering the state's budget, like many others in the country, is under considerable economic strain.

Nevertheless, USU officials believe there's a need for veterinarians, especially those practicing large animal medicine, White said. But he expects most of the program's veterinary students will focus on small animal medicine given national trends.

Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, is pleased a new school appears to be on the verge of opening.

“This is good,” she said. “This will help to increase the number of veterinarians.”

The association has not taken a formal stance on the new school and probably will wait until more specifics emerge, she said.

Pappaioanou does not expect the USU expansion to be included as one of the 28 veterinary medical programs in the United States, just as UNL is not counted because it feeds students to ISU's veterinary college.

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