Educational costs and student debt have increased at a much faster pace than starting salaries for new veterinarians, creating additional challenges as the begin their professional careers. During last-week’s Academy of Veterinary Consultants conference in Norman. OK, Kansas State University veterinarian Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, outlined the alarming trend.

State funding for veterinary schools and universities overall has declined dramatically in most states, forcing increases in student tuition. State appropriations for veterinary schools range from as high as $60 million per year to less than $1 million, depending on the state. At KSU, Apley says, state appropriations account for about 20 percent of vet-school finding, tuition about 22 percent, sponsored programs 20 percent, teaching hospital revenues 13 percent, diagnostic lab revenues 12 percent and other sources accounting for the remainder.

Veterinary schools are admitting more students, but reserving higher percentages of admissions for out-of-state students to capture the higher tuition dollars. Non-resident tuition in most states is about double that for residents, and averages around $40,000 per year compared with around $20,000 for in-state students. Of the 28 AVMA-accredited veterinary schools in the United States, a couple of private schools offer the same (relatively high) tuition for residents or non-residents. Among public universities, Georgia is the only one to offer non-resident veterinary students the same tuition as residents, at about $16,000. Ohio State University has the highest non-resident tuition for vet school at $62,000.

The mean level of student debt for veterinary school grads in 1989 was $27,700, Apley says. By 2007, the average was $106,900, although the average for students preparing for large-animal-predominant practices was lower at $52,000.

An average starting annual salary for new veterinarians in most specialties is about $60,000.

Among students graduating with debt at KSU, the current average debt today is $180,000. Apley says in 2007 just 4 percent of graduating vet students had debt greater than $200,000. By 2012, 44 percent of graduating veterinarians had debt at that level. Ten percent of 2012 graduates had debt greater than $300,000, compared with zero in 2007.

Following Apley’s presentation, a panel of veterinary students described their financial situations. Several had completed their undergraduate degrees in less than four years, most held jobs during school or during the summers and saved money prior to entering veterinary school. They described their efforts to keep living costs low, although housing prices even for shared apartments or mobile homes tend to be high in college towns. Some receive financial assistance from family and some do not. They all plan to graduate with significant debt, with the lowest interest rates ranging around 6 percent.