Biomedical science master’s for veterinary professionals extends online

University of Missouri touts convenience, flexibility

December 10, 2013 (published)
By Edie Lau

A master’s degree program in biomedical sciences for veterinarians, veterinary technologists and veterinary technicians that long has been available on the campus of the University of Missouri will be accessible online starting in January.

The expansion is an attempt by program leaders to attract veterinary professionals who are interested in further education but cannot or prefer not to relocate, or even travel a short distance to a classroom.

“They wouldn’t have to try to meet the course schedule at the institution; they wouldn’t have to leave their work during the day, sit through classes and travel back to work,” said Dr. C.B. Chastain, director of online veterinary programs at the University of Missouri.

The master’s for veterinary professionals is one of a swiftly growing number of online offerings at the University of Missouri and at postsecondary institutions across the country.

The proportion of institutions offering complete programs online nearly doubled in the past decade, reaching 62.4 percent in 2012, according to the Babson Survey Research Group, which has tracked online education in the United States for 10 years.

The Babson survey also found that a solid majority — 69.1 percent — of chief academic leaders consider online learning crucial to their long-term strategy.

Nearly 4,000 master’s degrees alone were offered in 2011-12 via distance education by four-year institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracks programs at schools eligible for federal financial aid. Center data show that 21 such institutions offered master’s degrees in biological and biomedical sciences.

The University of Missouri introduced online degrees in 1994; growth was cautious at first. Stacy Snow, interim director of marketing for Mizzou Online, said the university had only 11 online offerings in 2000-01. “Since then,” she said, “it’s taken off.” Today, more than 90 degree and certificate programs and some 900 courses comprise Mizzou Online.

The master’s in biomedical sciences with an emphasis in veterinary medicine is one of 16 existing degree and certificate programs extended to the online realm by the university this year. Snow said the university drew $2.5 million from Mizzou Online reserve funds to pay for the expansion.

“From a business perspective at the university, it’s a way to build more revenue,” she said. “But it’s not just a business thing. The College of Veterinary Medicine here is really interested in providing an opportunity to students who haven’t had that (opportunity) before.”

Chastain said the residential master’s program typically draws 10 to 15 students per year, usually veterinarians who are on campus already. “Nearly all of our residents in our teaching hospital take the courses and work toward master’s degrees,” he said.

But veterinary technicians on campus who might be interested in the program often are stymied by their work schedules, he said. The online option provides a solution by enabling students to “attend” class on the day and time that suits them, he said.

Veterinary technicians wishing to participate in the master’s program must have bachelor’s degrees in biological science. (Veterinary technician education generally entails a two- or three-year associate's degree or certificate program, while veterinary technologists have four-year baccalaureate degrees in the subject.)

Veterinarians, for their part, would have studied biomedical sciences as part of their veterinary training but “the graduate courses are more advanced than what we teach to DVM students,” Chastain said.

He said the program’s appeal is likely greatest to individuals interested in careers in research, industry or the military, or practitioners in a residency considering pursuing board-certification in a medical specialty. And, he added, “There are always the personal benefits of increased knowledge.”

But not every veterinarian will find the advanced training of practical value. “If they’re going to be in private practice in primary care, no, it’s not going to be of value to them. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Chastain said. “I don’t want them to think that the average client is going to pay them more money because they took some online courses.”

The same is true for some veterinary technicians. “Is (the degree) going to increase your income staying at the same job? Not if it’s private practice, it probably won’t,” Chastain acknowledged. But for an individual interested in advancing in industry, academia or research, he said, the graduate training could translate to a more lucrative position.

One impediment for prospective students is cost and debt. David Vogt has a bachelor’s degree in animal and poultry sciences and is pursuing a veterinary technician credential with the support of his employer, a companion animal hospital in Virginia. Vogt would like a master’s degree as a step toward an eventual position doing research and writing for professional groups, or clinical research. But he’s reluctant to take on more educational debt.

He’s already encumbered with $55,000 in student loans, which translates into a monthly payment of $650. “At the end of the day, it takes as much simplicity as possible to get me to pursue another degree, and the bottom line has to be there,” Vogt said in an interview by email. “I’ve worked hard to get to a point where I’m not struggling, and I know what that’s worth in this field. I won’t give it up lightly.”

The cost of the University of Missouri online biomedical sciences master’s program is $467.20 per credit hour for in- and out-of-state students alike. Completing the 30-credit program brings the bill to $14,076 at the current per-credit pricing. (As with most schools, the price is subject to change each year).

Chastain said participants attending full time would complete the program in two years; however, they may take up to eight years to finish.

Snow, the Mizzou Online interim marketing director, said the university has received nearly 100 inquiries about the program. “A handful” of applications are in process, she said; as of late last week, one person had been admitted for the semester that begins Jan. 21.

Snow said applications are accepted three times a year, with deadlines one month before the start of each session. In 2014, that’s May 2 for the summer session and July 25 for the fall session.

The first to sign on to the inaugural online program was David Liss, a registered veterinary technician in California. Liss works full time as program director of veterinary technology at Platt College in Alhambra, and part time at a specialty hospital. He plans to keep working both jobs even as he pursues the master’s degree full time. He’s free of educational debt, and intends to avoid borrowing by paying as he goes.

“I could not feasibly move to Missouri to attend school so I am thankful they are offering this program,” he said by email.

Liss has been thinking about graduate school for several years. “I originally considered being a veterinarian but found I can be academically challenged as a technician and avoid starting over a in a ‘new’ profession (or role in the profession) with less debt. I hope the master’s degree will be a stepping stone to an advanced academic position,” he said.

At one point, Liss considered pursuing a master’s in education but realized that his interests were more clinical. “I began to research programs in some sort of clinical science and found a smattering of ones in microbiology, pharmacology and epidemiology,” he said. “When I found the program (at Missouri), I enjoyed how well-rounded it is.”

He also appreciates that the program is pitched to veterinary technicians and veterinarians alike. “I am very excited the program has sought out veterinary technicians (so many grad programs just advertise to veterinarians),” Liss said,” and that has made me also want to be part of this program’s inception as it moves online.”

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