New veterinary colleges aim to open in COVID-19 era

Pandemic doesn't deter LIU, UA and Texas Tech; Arkansas State scopes possibilities

May 18, 2020 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Texas Tech University System photo
Construction is underway on a two-story, 185,000-square-foot building and courtyard to serve the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine. The building is adjacent to the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo and is scheduled to be partly occupied on Aug. 1. Full occupancy is slated for November.

As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on much of higher education, plans at new and emerging veterinary programs persist, bringing the number of accredited veterinary colleges in the United States to 32. 

Responding to a status inquiry by the VIN News Service, officials with Long Island University and the University of Arizona, which are  welcoming their first veterinary classes on Aug. 24, both report that their biggest uncertainties revolve around the logistics of how to teach — whether in person or online. 

Whether they'll begin their programs remotely, in traditional classrooms, or a combination, is yet to be decided.

Universities nationwide have transitioned to online instruction while absorbing revenue losses from on-campus housing, suspended or eliminated sporting events and suspended medical care at teaching hospitals. Many institutions, even major universities, eliminating entire academic programs and firing or furloughing staff.

Still, enthusiasm for veterinary education endures. In addition to the new programs at LIU's Post campus in Brookville, New York, and UA's campus in Tucson, Texas Tech University aims to open a veterinary school in 2021, provided it receives accreditation. 

Another up-and-comer is at Arkansas State University, where an emerging veterinary program could be a first for the state. A feasibility study in partnership with for-profit Adtalem Global Education Inc., formerly DeVry Education Group and owner of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in the Caribbean, was ordered in January, before the novel coronavirus had spread around the world. 

Four months later, "COVID-19-related issues have slowed our progress," but haven't killed the initiative, said Donald Kennedy, interim dean of the College of Agriculture. "In my opinion, the task force is off to a good start. ... So far, we have addressed many questions and concerns of our members about starting a college of veterinary medicine at A-State."

Recommendations from the task force will go to Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, who's asserted a need for more veterinarians. Demand is "significant," he said in a university news release, "as more households enjoy pet ownership, and Arkansas livestock producers have acknowledged a shortage of veterinarians for large animals."

LIU, UA incoming classes reach capacity  

Both LIU in New York and UA in Tucson report having filled their classes and then some, with waiting lists of aspiring veterinarians. The programs have admitted 100 students to their respective inaugural classes. 

"We're excited and we're ready," said Dr. Julie Funk, who was named dean of the UA College of Veterinary Medicine in March 2019.

Early this month, the Arizona Board of Regents set tuition for the UA College of Veterinary Medicine at $45,000 for state residents and $69,999 for nonresidents, who comprise more than half of all students in the three-year program.

As a private university, the LIU College of Veterinary Medicine doesn't differentiate between in-state and out-of-state students: Tuition for the four-year program is $55,000 for all students. 

Located some 30 miles east of New York City, where more than 15,000 people have died of COVID-19 to date, LIU might seem to be the veterinary program hardest hit by the pandemic. But officials there give little indication of hardship. 

Randy Burd, senior vice president for academic affairs, noted last week that the LIU College of Veterinary Medicine will open on schedule.

"[A] full inaugural class of 100 highly competitive students are registered and will begin their studies in August," he said. "Like other colleges and universities in the New York metropolitan area, we are developing plans to ensure compliance with federal, state and local guidelines that may be in place for on-campus learning in the fall. With the health and safety of our students top of mind, we are also preparing for various COVID-19-related contingencies to ensure our fall semester proceeds as scheduled."

That could involve in-person, online or a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, he said. 

Remote education could save some of LIU's veterinary students the cost of living in one of the most expensive areas of the country.

As an institution, LIU is grappling with major change at its two campuses, Post and Brooklyn, amid declines in enrollment and revenues. In February, LIU stripped its Post campus of dozens of undergraduate majors — art history, foreign languages, geography and geology, to name a few — and fired or furloughed more than 100 employees, prompting at least one union-related complaint. Some criticize the university for effectively terminating health-care coverage for former employees in the midst of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the institution has received more than $7 million in aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

"LIU has not announced salary cuts for top administrators, and, in fact, continues to spend heavily in other areas like veterinary education," said a faculty member who spoke anonymously, fearing retribution. 

Veterinary education at Texas Tech 

Officials with Texas Tech's veterinary school say interest in the program hasn't waned since COVID-19, nor has the program's progress. A site visit by an accreditation team is slated for June.

"We are all adapting to COVID-19," said Dr. Guy Loneragan, a veterinary epidemiologist and dean of the program. "In many ways, we are fortunate to be at our stage of development when the pandemic hit. Our in-person recruitment changed to [online] Zoom meetings with pre-vet students, and that worked well. We will continue with that approach until we get to meet in person again."

Construction is underway on two sets of facilities: laboratory and classroom space on campus in Amarillo; and large-animal housing, called Mariposa Station, located about 2.5 miles from campus. Hiring has continued, too. By fall, the program should have around two dozen faculty. "I am thrilled about the team that is coming together," Loneragan said.

He added, "All aspects of the program are on track and on time."

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