The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Chase Cromwell as Chris Cromwell.
PHOENIX — Sen. Steve Pierce (R-District 1) stood up on the Senate floor last week and attempted to get $4.2 million for the UA to start a veterinary program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Shortly after he finished talking, the nay votes overwhelmed the yeas, and the amendment was voted down.
In his office, Rep. Ethan Orr (R-District 9) who has his two UA diplomas hanging behind his desk, remains on a mission. Early in the week, Orr, a former associate professor at the university, thought he could get the funding from the House, despite the lack of success of veterinary appropriations in the Senate. But later this week, the House only agreed to give the university $3.5 million for Cooperative Extension support. Without the support of the House and Senate, Orr will have to come up with some other way to squeeze in the money he wants to create the UA’s first veterinary school and surgical program — before the budget is finalized.
But the legislative appropriations game is only part of a bigger conversation surrounding the proposed veterinary program — one between two veterinarians, Shane Burgess, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Wayne Anderson, of the Arrow Service Group of Animal Hospitals, a co-op of veterinary hospitals in the Phoenix area.
Anderson says he has letters from more than 30 private practices in the state, all of which state that they don’t support a veterinary school program for the university. But if you talk to Orr, Burgess or any other supporter of the program, they’ll tell you that the UA, as a land-grant university, has a responsibility to its citizens to create this program.
“We take this very seriously in my college,” Burgess said. “Our job is to do whatever we can to benefit the state. My job is to do whatever I can to improve the state’s economy.”
Currently, a program called the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education allows Arizona students to pay in-state tuition to out-of-state schools in return for the students’ spending at least four years working in Arizona after they graduate.
“Even with that, a lot of veterinarians I know still leave with like a hundred grand in debt after veterinary school,” said Chase Cromwell, a veterinary sciences junior at the UA. “Really, there is no cheap option for veterinary students in general, but especially veterinary students in Arizona.”
Most of the veterinary schools in the country are state schools and typically admit more in-state students than out-of-state students, which doesn’t leave much room for Arizona students like Cromwell.
To help Arizona students, Burgess has two ideas. One is to streamline the program, providing six different entry points into the program. The other is to use the resources that the university already has, including a distributive education model that would place students in clinics throughout the state.
Burgess’ other idea, the distributive education model, has been in effect in a few schools across the country, including a veterinary school at the University of Calgary and Western University of Health Sciences. Burgess has arranged for several veterinarians, mostly in Southern Arizona, to take part in his program.
Anderson said he doesn’t think that you can reduce the cost of education while maintaining the current standards.
“You can’t have an increased amount of knowledge and decrease the time because of money,” he said. “You have to kind of pick your poison.”
Another area where there is little consensus, not just between Anderson and Burgess, but also in the veterinary community, is whether there is an actual shortage of veterinarians.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2014 Occupational Outlook Handbook said that there is a 12 percent growth rate for veterinarians in the country. However, with a higher number of graduates from veterinary schools, competition for jobs is expected to increase. That is consistent with Anderson’s fears; he said he thinks that having a UA veterinary program will flood the market since Midwestern, a private veterinary school in Glendale, is already starting its first class in the fall.
Burgess said that isn’t a concern. He said that veterinary graduates are well under the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent in 2012, with only 2.1 percent being unemployed.
Burgess’ plans have the backing of the agricultural community, the AVMA, the university and some legislators, which could be more than enough to get his program off of the ground.
Back in the Legislature, the budget battle continues. In the whirlwind of amendments and counter-proposals, it’s easy to lose the veterinary school in the mix. Orr insists that the state simply needs a veterinary school.
“It furthers the mission of the University of Arizona, which, as a land grant institution, is a resource for the entire state,” Orr said. “It means that we’ll be able to support our rural and agricultural economy.”
Of course, that is if he can get the money.