Vet school graduates are carrying an increasing amount of debt as tuition rises. Despite these increases in cost, vet schools are realizing historic boosts in class sizes. Schools across the country, like Cornell and University of Georgia, have recently launched fundraisers to further improve their enrollment. Vet schools are also initiating programs to address the shortage of livestock vets due to shifts towards the more lucrative careers treating domestic animals. An additional challenge for recent graduates of vet schools is the decreasing number of domestic pets, as well as the decline in the amount of money that pet owners are willing to spend on veterinary services.

Increases in Tuition and Debt

Veterinary school tuition has doubled over the last decade, according to AVMA, the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most vet schools are public, with an average tuition of $38,000 for out-of-state students and $18,000 for state residents. Tuition continues to increase partly because of the cost of providing such a variety of species in order to adequately train vets.  The areas of concentration in vet school range from large-herd or equine medicine, wildlife conservation, emergency medicine, produce development, lab animal medicine, to public health.  In addition, there is no federal support for residency training or teaching hospitals in the veterinary field, according to Michael Kotlikoff, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

A recent New York Times article, Puppy Love Can Cost You, warns that “anyone thinking of applying to veterinary school needs to balance the likelihood of high job satisfaction against the probability of financial strain.” Graduating vet students carry an average debt of $125,000, but their average income in private practices is $121,000, according to the AVMA.  In comparison, a family-practice physician graduates with debt of about $160,000, but earns an average of about $200,000 (Association of American Medical Colleges). The Vet Debt Trap, a New York Times article, explains that the “boom in supply (that is, vets) and the decline in demand (namely, veterinary services),” is the cause of the large debt that shadows most vet school grads. The population of pets in America is going down, along with the amount of money that owners are willing to spend on the health care of their animals.

Increases in Enrollment

Amidst rising tuitions, veterinary colleges are realizing historic increases in class sizes with more than half of America’s 28 accredited vet colleges having expanded in recent years, some by up to 50 percent (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association). Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine launched a $22 million project to increase its class size from 90 to 102 students, with plans for an additional $34 million that would allow it to enroll 120 of its annual 1,000 applicants by 2017. After a 10-year fundraising effort for a new veterinary complex, including a new teaching hospital, the University of Georgia will be able to gradually increase its enrollment from 102 students in each class to 150.

These increases in enrollment in veterinary schools across the country are partially designed to address a common problem in the veterinary field: a lack of livestock vets in rural America. In May 2012, the National Research Council stated that the “profession has shifted from farm animal health to companion animal care,” which is diverting resources from research, pubic service and food production. The report warned that “the safety of the food system and ability to prevent infectious diseases could become compromised.”  Dean Michael Kotlikoff says “Cornell hopes to increase enrollment in its food animal program from 20 in each entering class to 30.” Cornell’s recent fundraising projects would also improve Cornell’s facilities and train more students to treat livestock.