LIU Post scores veterinary-accreditation coup

Governor-backed school jumps to top of COE schedule

July 5, 2018 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Artistic rendering of Long Island University
Courtesy of Long Island University Post
Officials with Long Island University Post aim to open the nation's 31st veterinary medical program. If all goes as planned, the new college will enroll 100 students to the four-year program in September 2019. The program is slated to share space with LIU School of Health Professions and Nursing but also requires new construction, officials say. This artistic rendering depicts plans for a new facility on LIU's Post campus in Brookville, New York. The project is expected to cost between $40 million and $50 million.

No one’s saying publicly how it happened, but Long Island University Post College of Veterinary Medicine has cut in front of nearly one dozen other programs to reach the top of the schedule for a Council on Education site visit.

A COE team will gather Aug. 12-17 at LIU's Post campus in Brookville, New York, to assess whether the emerging program meets the 11 standards for U.S. veterinary accreditation. The COE, an arm of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is the nation's only programmatic accreditor of U.S. veterinary education.

Establishing a new veterinary college and then earning accreditation is a lengthy and arduous process for most; some programs wait for a site visit for more than a year. AVMA and COE officials did not answer questions about how LIU's prospective school earned its coveted spot at the top of the COE's agenda, which runs through May 2019, except to say that the program meets all of the requirements for the meeting.

The program dean, Dr. Carmen Fuentealba, is busy preparing for the site visit and does not have time for an interview, according to Jon Schneider, director of public relations. He confirmed that the program, if accredited, would seat 100 students in September 2019, and employ 100 faculty, administrators and post-doctoral fellows within four years of opening. 

While the program has advertised for administrators since December, student recruitment isn't anticipated to begin until the COE confers reasonable assurance, a first step that signals a program is on the path toward earning full accreditation.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is invested in making sure that happens.

In May, Cuomo promised to allocate $12 million in state funds to help establish the nation's 31st veterinary program in Brookville, home of one of LIU's two main campuses. Noting that LIU recently opened a four-year school of veterinary technology, the governor said the allocation fits well with the state's $72 million investment into the economic development of Long Island, earmarked from $5.4 billion in federal banking settlements that the state received in 2015.  

The project will "fill a void in the academic landscape, while generating new opportunities for medical research and jobs creation in the state," Cuomo stated in a news release.

Clinical partners

It's projected to cost between $40 million and $50 million to fully develop the school, and that's without an on-site veterinary teaching hospital. The proposed college would have a distributive model of clinical education, meaning that students will receive their clinical education at off-site practices. The prospective school has secured agreements with some 40 clinical partners. According to local media reports, the university will construct a 47,000-square-foot building and renovate 13,000 square feet of space for the program. 

Cuomo asserts that more veterinary-education options are needed. Three programs exist within 200 miles of Long Island, including one in New York: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca; University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia; and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

Cuomo said New York City has more working veterinarians than any other city in the country, but some parts of the state, particularly rural areas, need more practitioners. Whether that's true and opening another college at LIU Post can fix the problem is a point of controversy. Even if LIU veterinary graduates add to New York's practitioner pool, there's no guarantee they'll set up shop in an underserved area.

Tuition for the proposed college hasn't been set yet. Across the country, a year of veterinary tuition runs between $20,000 and $55,000. That doesn't include the cost of living, which in the New York City area is among the nation's highest. Even accounting for graduates of schools in less-expensive regions, new veterinarians are, on average, entering practice with student-loan debt more than twice their starting salaries, and many face decades of hefty student-loan payments.

In New York City, with its high density of veterinarians, practice is highly competitive. The nation's robust economy has made plenty of work for New York practices, but finding people to fill positions is tough, said Tim Atkinson, executive director of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. 

"We certainly see a lot of people ... advertising for positions," he said. "I have a sense that there's a need for more veterinarians here, but I don’t have hard information."

Asked whether the NYSVMS has a position on whether New York needs another veterinary program, Atkinson said he hasn't heard much about it. "We are waiting to see what others learn," he said. "Nobody with the school has approached us."

New York's other veterinary program  

The same goes for Cornell University, where Dr. Lorin Warnick, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said he learned from a post on social media in January about the proposal at LIU. He's had no connection with LIU officials or anyone promoting the new program. 

Hoping to change that, Cornell's leadership has invited LIU President Dr. Kimberly R. Cline to meet in Ithaca next week, though the meeting has not yet been scheduled, Warnick told the VIN News Service by phone today.

"I personally am in the exploratory phase of figuring out what they’re proposing," he said.  

Asked whether New York needs a second option for veterinary education and what impact it might have on the job market for veterinarians, Warnick paused.

"It’s a question that has some nuances," he said. "Of course, New York is one of the bigger-population states. We’ve recognized for some time that it might be attractive to someone if they were to start a new program. And right now, the job market is strong.

"But, as you remember, just a few years ago, everyone was talking about an oversupply. So it's important to take a long view of the job market."

Whether LIU will ask the state Legislature to help fund the prospective veterinary college's ongoing operations is unclear. If it does, that could mean competing for funds with Cornell, which is the land-grant university for New York. As such, the Ivy League institution operates as a public and private hybrid. The state allocates $34 million a year to the veterinary college, a figure that comprises 21 percent of the program's operating budget.  

Cornell also receives major public support for capital improvements. Last month, Cuomo applauded a $91 million expansion of Cornell's veterinary college, much of which was covered by state funds for capital projects. The upgrades include expanded capacity for more students (18 more seats per class), updated teaching spaces and cosmetic improvements.

"The first class of 120 students was admitted this past fall," Warnick said.

The expanded class size, he said, is intended to get more mixed-animal practitioners working in rural areas of the state — addressing the very problem that LIU is supposed to tackle. 

Fixing the maldistribution of veterinarians in America is challenging because rural communities often offer lower wages, fewer opportunities and a lifestyle that may not have broad appeal, Warnick said. "But we've been working actively on this issue for a long time, and will continue to do so," he stated.  

Whether opening another school at LIU could aggravate another ongoing problem in the profession — a static number of applicants to veterinary school — is another open question. 

Warnick said he is confident that his program's reputation as one of the world's best will continue to draw qualified applicants to Cornell. He added that Cornell has a large presence in the New York City region, where LIU is based: It has a diagnostic laboratory satellite and an equine specialty practice in Elmont, also on Long Island; and a small animal emergency and referral practice in Stamford, Connecticut, just across the Long Island Sound.

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