Creativity needed to ease student debt issue

Graduating veterinary students increasingly face the burden of substantial debt, and with tuition likely to keep moving higher, colleges and industry will need to find creative solutions. The current average debt-to-income ratio of about two-to-one leaves some students with debt similar to a home mortgage, which they could spend much of their career paying off.

To address the issue, Michigan State University, in partnership with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), hosted a summit titled "Fix the Debt: Our Future, Our Responsibility."

Dr. John C. Baker, dean of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says that he estimates that if his school's tuition and fees continue to increase annually at the current rate of 2 percent over the next 10 years, student debt will increase from an average of $109,639 in 2015 to $140,329 in 2025 for residents and from $217,903 to $307,176 for out-of-state students.

Interest in the summit exceeded expectations, with 171 attendees including educators, employers, students and recent graduates and associations participating.

During the working sessions, participants brainstormed on several strategies for easing the student-debt burden. These included:

Less time in school

Early admission into a DVM program, with just two years of undergraduate prerequisite work, could reduce the number of years students pay tuition while increasing their years working in the profession.

More scholarship money

The mean amount of scholarship money available per veterinary student in 2014-2015 was around $2,500 according to the AAVMC, and only about 46.5% of students received scholarships. Participants favored an approach working through AAVMC and AVMA to develop a national campaign to increase availability of scholarship funds, with financial support from clients, industry and alumni.

Career and financial counseling for veterinary students

Several vet schools provide career-planning and financial counseling for students, and expanding the service could help graduates reduce debt and boost their incomes. Practice ownership, for example, can help young veterinarians increase earnings and pay off their debts Universities can help prepare students with the business skills needed to operate a veterinary practice.

Government action

The veterinary community should advocate and lobby at the national level for legislation to provide students with more flexible and lower-cost loan options.

Read more from the AVMA.