South Carolina is fifth state to pursue a new veterinary school

Clemson University program planners aim for 2026 opening;
University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College to expand

Published: April 20, 2023
By Meg St-Esprit

Photo courtesy of Clemson University
Plans are underway to make Clemson University the home of South Carolina's first veterinary college.

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Add Clemson University to the lineup of institutions looking to create a new veterinary school.

The public university in South Carolina is searching for a founding dean, following approval and acceptance of a feasibility study by its Board of Trustees in February. The program's projected opening date is 2026.

South Carolina is one of five U.S. states without a degree-granting veterinary school where governments or educational institutions are pursuing plans to establish their own. The others are New Jersey (at Rowan University); West Virginia (no location yet identified); Arkansas (possibly at Arkansas State University as well as at Lyon College, a private institution); and Utah (at Utah State University).

Right now, there are 33 veterinary schools in 28 states. Three of the schools are new, having opened since 2020.

Adding veterinary schools is an international trend. For example, Ireland, which has one veterinary program, is considering opening a second. Scotland, with two veterinary programs, is poised to open a third this fall. In Cyprus, a program opened at the University of Nicosia last fall.

Like the other aspirants, Clemson perceives a growing need for veterinarians. The Tiger student newspaper reported: "There is a significant shortage of veterinarians in South Carolina, and an excess of applicants, with some students finding that vet school is harder to get into than med school."

Clemson's proposed veterinary school would accept 80 students per year, with a capacity for up to 125 students, markedly increasing the number of South Carolina residents able to pursue a veterinary degree at in-state tuition rates. South Carolina presently has arrangements with three veterinary schools in neighboring states through which 46 students from South Carolina pay reduced or in-state tuition rates — 29 at the University of Georgia, 10 at Mississippi State University, and seven at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

In all, nearly 200 South Carolina residents were enrolled in 13 veterinary schools across the country in 2022, according to the feasibility study, which notes that during the past five years, more than half of residents who applied to veterinary school were accepted.

In brief

The Clemson program initially would occupy 15 to 20 acres of a 50- to 60-acre veterinary college main campus site. It would put a "special focus in recruiting qualified applicants from rural underserved areas, as well as those with livestock experience,” the study states. In addition, another study is underway on the feasibility of attracting private donations and/or grants to supplement operating costs.

The Clemson study was co-authored by Dr. Jason Johnson, former dean of Lincoln Memorial University, which opened a veterinary college in Tennessee in 2014; and Ashley Russell, past chief operating officer of the LMU veterinary school.

Johnson was the principal author of a controversial 2015 LMU study that identified a workforce shortage in Appalachia. In the Clemson study, as in the Appalachia analysis, Johnson's documentation of a shortage is based in part on county-by-county tallies of pets, livestock and veterinarians.

The Clemson study also cites trends such as "an unprecedented growth of the human-animal bond and changing face of animal agriculture” and "large investments of money, both private and public, into [the] animal health sector” as evidence that "[t]here has never been a better time to establish a new college of veterinary medicine.”

On campus, a point person for the nascent Clemson program is Dr. Boyd Parr, an adjunct professor and special assistant to the provost in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. A former state veterinarian, Parr has been on staff at Clemson for 17 years. After South Carolina legislators approached the university about creating a veterinary school, Parr said, he agreed to help launch the program.

Parr said the Legislature provided $10 million for the feasibility study, site selection and other initial steps. The total cost to build and equip the facilities is estimated at $285 million. Parr said Clemson is hopeful of receiving the entire amount from state funding. He said that overall, the proposal is widely supported by members of both the House and Senate. The proposal also has support from the South Carolina Farm Bureau and the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians.

The university aspires to offer one of the lowest in-state veterinary school tuitions in the nation. While a ballpark figure is not yet available, Parr said, "We would hopefully be in the lowest four or five in the U.S. for in-state tuition and fees at that time."

If a Clemson veterinary school were open today, in order to be among the least expensive, its tuition and fees for state residents would be around $25,000 per year, judging from prices at other public institutions. According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges cost comparison tool, the lowest resident tuition paid by the class of 2021 was at North Carolina State University, which charged $78,479 over four years. The fifth-lowest during the same period was $91,184 at Kansas State University.

Parr said the interstate agreements by which select South Carolina residents' out-of-state tuition is subsidized by the state will be phased out gradually, ending completely when all students who receive the support are graduated. "However, no new students will receive state support once there is an in-state … option for them to attend,” he said.

A Clemson alumnus who received his veterinary degree from the University of Georgia in 1978, Parr personally benefited from the cross-state arrangements. Asked for his view on their ending, he said, "While they have been excellent partners, there are two thoughts: One is that we want more seats overall. And two, there has been a longstanding shortage of veterinarians to work on livestock — large animals and food animals — for decades, especially in rural underserved areas. With the financial support from the state Legislature, Clemson University hopes to entice graduates to remain in the state, as well as work in rural areas."

While nothing is solid yet, Parr said planners are considering loan forgiveness programs and other financial incentives to retain veterinarians in South Carolina.

As envisioned, the program would include a large animal ambulatory practice to provide fourth-year students clinical training on food animals.

Clinical training in companion animal medicine would follow the distributed model, whereby students learn off-site rather than at an on-campus teaching hospital. "There are a lot of private specialty clinics full of specialists we can partner with," Parr said.

One advantage of the distributed model, Parr said, is that it sets up veterinarians to stay in the state after they finish school. Working in partnership with local clinics during their fourth — and final — year may result in jobs at those practices for the students upon graduation, he posited.

A critical step for the proposed new veterinary school is to get on a path toward accreditation. As yet, no consultative site visit is scheduled at Clemson by the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education, AVMA spokesperson Michael San Filippo confirmed. Parr said Clemson will schedule a site visit once a dean is hired.

Regarding concerns about a shortage of veterinarians, Parr, cited a recent report from Mars Veterinary Health, a division of Mars Inc., the largest owner of veterinary practices in the world. "Projections show that the U.S. might be short as many as 15,000 veterinarians by 2030, leaving as many as 75 million pets without care,” he said.

Lakehead University partners with University of Guelph veterinary college

Universities outside of the U.S. also are expanding their programs, citing anticipated growing demand for veterinarians. In Ontario, the provincial government approved a 2023 provincial budget that includes a one-time $14.7 million (US$11 million) appropriation to increase the capacity of the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, as part of a partnership with Lakehead University. The province may continue providing funding in future budgets if the program is successful. Guelph currently accommodates 105 Canadian students and 15 international students each year. The increased funding will support bumping up the number of seats by nearly 20%, or approximately 20 slots.

Those slots will be reserved for students from Lakehead, an institution in Thunder Bay on the shore of Lake Superior, nearly 1,400 km (900 miles) from Guelph. Advocates say the arrangement, called the Collaborative Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program in Rural and Northern Community Practice, will provide a singular opportunity for underserved communities in Northern Ontario.

Lakehead University President and Vice-Chancellor Moira McPherson said her institution "uniquely responds to the needs of Northern, rural, and Indigenous communities, and excels at recruiting, educating and retaining skilled labor in Northern and Indigenous communities.”

Lakehead veterinary students will spend their first two years locally, then complete their final two years at Guelph, with practicum and clinical training at both locations.

Both universities cite the success of similar collaborations in the United States that have successfully retained veterinarians in less urban communities — something the province of Ontario aims to accomplish, as well.

When the Guelph-Lakehead program will begin is undetermined, as it must meet accreditation requirements, but Lakehead officials said they hope to enroll their first cohort "as quickly as possible."

Calling the predicted shortage of veterinarians in Ontario a crisis, Dr. Charlotte Yates, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Guelph, called the government's funding decision "bold action."

"As Ontario's only veterinary college and the top school in Canada, we are thrilled by this unprecedented investment," she said by email.

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