South Dakota State mulls joint veterinary school with Minnesota

Proposed 2+2 would be fifth such partnership in the U.S.

October 13, 2017 (published)
By Edie Lau

South Dakota State University students gather outside the veterinary science building
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State University
South Dakota State University students gather outside the veterinary science building. SDSU has a pre-veterinary medicine program for undergraduates and is considering establishing a professional school allied with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

A South Dakota State University task force has for nearly three years studied a proposal to establish a cooperative veterinary program with the University of Minnesota. Now the university is seeking opinions from the state's veterinary and ranching communities.

The South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association (SDVMA) and groups representing various livestock producers in the state are collecting emailed survey responses from their respective members through Sunday before developing a position, according to Dr. Travis White, immediate past president of the SDVMA.

"We know there's support out there, but we also know there's some opposition," said White, chairman of a committee representing about a half-dozen stakeholder groups. "We want to come to a consensus. We want to do what's best for the membership."

The proposal, known as a 2+2, would have South Dakota provide two years of veterinary schooling, then send students to neighboring Minnesota for two years to complete their professional degrees. The chief intent of the program, according to a task force report, is "improving the long-term supply of food animal veterinarians to the agriculture industries of our respective states."

The concept isn't new. In the past 10 years, similar programs have formed at the University of Nebraska with Iowa State University; Utah State University with Washington State University; Montana State University also with Washington State; and the University of Alaska with Colorado State University.

A reason commonly given for operating joint programs with existing veterinary schools is to develop homegrown veterinarians who might be more apt to return to their home states to practice. Advocates of in-state veterinary programs also point to cost savings for students, as in-state tuition typically is significantly lower than nonresident tuition.

At South Dakota State, the task force reports that the idea of developing a joint professional veterinary program came from Dr. Trevor Ames, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, in order to attract more students to the Minnesota program interested in food animal medicine. The VIN News Service was unable to reach Ames for comment.

In response to Ames's overtures, SDSU created a task force in early 2015 to study the idea. The task force has found much to like. "A 2+2 program that provides well-educated food animal veterinarians with stronger ties to South Dakota would be an asset to the livestock and animal industries of the state, and, as proposed, would decrease costs and time for the students," it states in its report dated May 27, 2016, and updated Aug. 18, 2017.

The group also identified potential hitches. One concern is whether the program would attract enough students to fill the anticipated 20 slots per year.

According to the report, historically, 10 to 12 South Dakota residents each year enrolled in a U.S. veterinary school, of which there are 30. In the past two years, however, South Dakota enrollments were much lower, at six.

The task force envisions that South Dakota residents would fill at least 10 of the 20 seats at SDSU. The rest, the report states, potentially could be filled by applicants from other states in the region, such as North Dakota. The task force also identifies Minnesota as a possible source of students; the SDSU campus in Brookings is about 15 miles from the Minnesota border.

According to the report, 24 South Dakota residents currently attend veterinary school at Iowa State University and receive subsidies from the state of South Dakota to bridge the difference between resident and nonresident tuition — thereby enabling South Dakota residents to pay the same price as Iowa residents. This academic year, the difference between resident and nonresident tuition and fees is nearly $27,000. Students receiving the subsidy are obligated after graduating to practice in South Dakota for four years or reimburse the state.

In 2015, the subsidy cost the state $150,000 per class for a total of $600,000 — an expense that's risen an average of $40,000 per year in the past five years. That money, the task force says, could be channeled instead to SDSU to help operate the 2+2 program.

The task force estimates that establishing the program would cost $6 million in capital and start-up expenses, and $1.41 million a year to operate.

One major hurdle it identifies is how to house the program. "These facility needs include an anatomy lab and surgical suite, plus dedicated student classrooms ... estimated to cost $4.3 million," the report states.

The task force posits a tiered tuition and fee schedule under which six students would pay the equivalent of in-state costs at Iowa State, $21,098 per year. (The figure appears to have changed since the SDSU report was prepared; it is shown on the Iowa State website as $23,572.) Other South Dakota residents would pay an in-state rate comparable to SDSU graduate school tuition and fees of $27,345.

The budget model assumes half of students would come from Minnesota and pay Minnesota in-state tuition and fees, currently $31,700 per year.

Students from other states would pay the equivalent of the out-of-state tuition and fees charged at the Minnesota veterinary school, currently $56,972 per year.

The school could include a fast-track program at the undergraduate level whereby students with an interest in food animals could begin veterinary studies after three years of undergraduate study rather than four, which would save them a year's expenses.

SDVMA's White, summarizing some of the benefits he's heard touted by supporters, said the program would bring prestige to the university. "It will enhance the intellectual capacity of the university, and we will have input into the students that get accepted into that program," he said.

Others question the need for the program. White said some do not believe that the state is short on rural veterinarians. The possibility that there may be insufficient interest among in-state students to fill the proposed 20 seats is another concern of opponents.

The SDVMA and producer groups plan to let the university know their position by Jan. 1, White said.

Dennis Hedge, provost at SDSU, said details of the prospective program are far from firm. "We're still in exploration phase with a lot of this stuff, so it's still kind of fluid," he said. For example, the tuition structure outlined in the task force report is "just one possible scenario," he said.

As for the plan overall, he said: "We're exploring it very seriously. We do believe there are merits of pursuing the program. .... That said, there are always challenges associated with building any program."

Should the university decide to pursue the plan, Hedge anticipates it would approach the South Dakota legislature in 2019 to request shifting to the SDSU program the tuition-assistance money now going to Iowa State.

On that schedule, he said, "The earliest we would have students in classes in the program here on our campus is the fall of 2021."

A look at existing 2+2 programs

As part of its research, the SDSU task force reviewed programs in Nebraska, Utah and Alaska.

At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, which has a cooperative program with Iowa State, the task force identified strengths such as:

  • The performance of Nebraska students on competency and national board exams was almost identical to those of Iowa.
  • The university leveraged the program to secure funding from the state legislature for a new $50 million diagnostic facility.
  • The small class size of 25 was beneficial for training.

Weaknesses identified include:

  • Tension among faculty because "the original UNL-ISU agreement was a top-down administrative decision without input of the ISU faculty, who consequently expected that the UNL faculty would be inferior."
  • Initial budget struggles. Among other things, the cost of videoconferencing was underestimated and a classroom not previously planned for had to be constructed.
  • Early on, there were hitches involving communicating curriculum changes and coordination between financial aid offices on the respective campuses.

At Utah, which has a program with Washington State, the task force identified strengths including:

  • Increased morale and pride of USU faculty.
  • USU and WSU formed a DVM/Ph.D program in which students begin their graduate work at USU, work on their projects during the summer, complete the final two years of veterinary school at WSU, then return to USU to complete their doctoral dissertation.
  • USU gives greater emphasis to food animal medicine and theriogenology than WSU.

Weaknesses identified include:

  • "WSU students do not like it when the USU professors are leading classes from Logan, UT."
  • Classrooms for first- and second-year classes and the pathology laboratory are in three separate buildings that are a five- to 15-minute walk apart.
  • The academic calendars of the two universities are different, posing a scheduling impediment that's exacerbated by their locations in different time zones.

At Alaska, which has a program with Colorado State, the task force identified strengths including:

  • Alaskans no longer have to move to the Lower 48 for a veterinary education.
  • The program emphasizes "One Health" and interacts strongly with the medical and public health communities.
  • The program emphasizes food animal agriculture, "a veterinary sector that was missing in Alaska."

Weaknesses identified include:

  • The program isn't supported by ongoing state funding.
  • The Alaska Veterinary Medical Association and Interior Alaska Veterinary Medical Association initially opposed establishment of the school.

None of the programs requires graduates to return to their home states to practice. At the University of Nebraska 2+2, which at 10 years old has the longest history, a survey of alumni found that 62 percent had returned to Nebraska, according to Dr. Clayton Kelling, the school director.

The survey response rate and how returns to Nebraska were measured aren't clear; the VIN News Service was unable to obtain details. Documenting returns can be tricky because some graduates return for a period, then leave. Or they may work elsewhere for a time and later move back to their home state.

Dr. Lindsey Kock is a case in point. A member of the class of 2012, the second group to graduate from the Nebraska-Iowa 2+2, Kock met the man she would marry at Iowa State. She ended up staying in Iowa for four years after graduation.

Today, Kock is back in Nebraska, working in market development for Neogen, a company that, among other things, provides tests for Mars Wisdom Panel, a genetic test kit for dog breed identification and health-related mutations.

Kock is the daughter of an Iowa State veterinary school alumnus but it wasn't a foregone conclusion that she would attend the same school as her dad. She considered other schools in the Midwest, as well. The Nebraska-Iowa program ended up her top choice because of the tuition break. "That sort of solidified the deal," she said.

Asked whether she would have preferred to attend Iowa State all four years, all things being equal, Kock said not really.

"A big benefit of the first couple of years [in Nebraska] was having a small class size," she said. That meant in classes such as anatomy lab, "you'd have a group of two rather than a group of four, so you'd get more hands-on experience and more one-on-one coaching."

Also, she said, "Not only do you get to know the faculty and the professional support system within that state but we also have a mentoring program with the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association that got started up shortly after I graduated."

Of classmates whose whereabouts she knows, Kock said, one is in Florida; another in Kentucky; another in Washington state; three are pursuing advanced degrees in Illinois, Mississippi and Nebraska, respectively; a few stayed in Iowa; and a few returned to Nebraska. "They really are spread out all over," she said.

Another Nebraska-Iowa alumna, Dr. Jennafer Glaesemann, figured she'd have to live elsewhere to pursue her interest in dairy practice. "I interviewed everywhere from British Columbia, Canada, out to Pennsylvania and other places in the Midwest — Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio — because while I was away in college for undergraduate [studies] and veterinary school, probably a third of the dairies that I knew growing up [in Nebraska] went out of business," she recounted.

But as Glaesemann interviewed for jobs, she came to realize that what she really wanted was to own her own practice. She approached a veterinarian whom her family had known for years, asked about buying his mixed animal practice, and that's how she ended up working 26 miles from where she grew up.

A member of the inaugural class of the Nebraska-Iowa program, Glaesemann wrote an article about the experience shortly before she graduated in 2011. The article discusses the individualized attention that comes with starting in a smaller program, and the flip side of that — the isolation of being at a satellite location.

"In the end, it ended up being pretty cool," Glaesemann told the VIN News Service. "Some of my Iowa State classmates are still among my best friends today, and I had only a couple of years to get to know them."

Asked what she would advise to a state like South Dakota considering establishing a similar program, Glaesemann offered:

"States need to look very closely at what their goals are for the program. If they really want, for example, food animal practitioners to come back to rural areas, there's a lot of data to suggest that you can predict a lot of that from their lifestyles before they go to vet school. Recruiting appropriately for the goals of the program is important. You're not going to transform someone into something just because you teach them in a different place."

She also said it's important to stay focused on serving the needs of resident students. "If it's a cooperative program but they enable out-of-state students to come in there, what benefit are they giving to their own in-state students?" she asked. That such a thing might be considered amid the profession's concerns with rising tuition and student debt "is a bit mind-blowing," she said.

Finally, Glaesemann suggested, a state should be confident it can afford the investment. "It may not be a good idea for states that are having trouble balancing their budgets," she said. "It is a financial commitment."

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