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Those present for the announcement included (from left) Dr. Len Frey, Dr. Todd Shields, Dr. Mickey LaTour, Dr. Jennifer Bouldin, Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch and Dr. Tom Risch.
JONESBORO – A-State Vets for Arkansas was the message from Chancellor Todd Shields as Arkansas State University provided an update on its plans to open its College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM).
The university would be the sole operator of its new CVM, deciding after a careful period of study to not partner with any outside groups. Starting the process with internal discussions in 2019 on a CVM to complement existing graduate programs, Arkansas State initially considered a public-private partnership agreement to launch a veterinary school. Over the recent months of study, the most cost-efficient pathway in the long run, both for the university and future students, is for A-State to operate internally.
“When I was interviewed for the chancellor’s position, I made it very clear that this was a top priority of mine, and I believe it is also a priority of our faculty, our community and for the people of Arkansas,” Chancellor Shields said. “It gives me great pleasure to announce we will be filing our Letter of Intent and seeking Board of Trustees approval to create our own College of Veterinary Medicine. This will be an A-State degree with A-State faculty and facilities and we are committed to providing more veterinarians to meet the needs of our state.”
As a Carnegie 2 Research university with a deep investment in biosciences including the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, Arkansas State also brings its Agricultural Research and Teaching Farm to Jonesboro along with other agricultural research stations as primary assets to the start of the veterinary program. Arkansas State’s status as a national doctoral-granting institution with the state’s largest graduate enrollment is another plus
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“We have the opportunity to build the only university location in Arkansas with a medical school, a veterinary school and a long-standing commitment to research,” Shields said. “There is a chance for great cross-disciplinary development.”
“This has been a topic of discussion for three years, but as our discussions and due diligence progressed, our commitment became even stronger,” ASU System President Charles L. Welch said. “Our ASU System Board of Trustees has been enthusiastic about this possibility from the beginning.”
Both Shields and Welch acknowledged that the pandemic paused part of the planning process, but now that officials have decided to formally proceed, the university will begin working toward the goal of new students soon.
“We have many of our approvals already in place, and by adopting a plan for shared use of current facility assets, we would like to welcome our first class at the earliest possible date,” Shields said.
Interim Provost Len Frey detailed the timeline ahead.
“We will be counting on partners on-campus to assist in the completion of our curriculum so we can meet the review deadlines ahead of us both internally and externally,” Frey said. “If we discover problems that cannot be solved on the timeline we have, we will adjust accordingly. But from our internal discussions, we feel confident about the process.”
Shields and Frey were joined at Tuesday’s update media event by Dr. Mickey Latour, A-State’s dean of College of Agriculture; dr Jennifer Bouldin, the interim dean of the College of Science and Mathematics; dr Cherisse Jones-Branch, dean of the Graduate School; and Faculty Senate President Dr. Ed Salo, who each offered comments in support of the CVM.
The A-State CVM will operate on a three-year distributed model, which will also be important for the industry. Students will complete their first years of coursework on campus before moving into the veterinary community for residencies, internships and specialty placements.
Nationwide there is a significant shortage of veterinarians, and combined with an anticipated retirement of current vets, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges projects the need for another 41,000 veterinarians by 2030.
In Arkansas, more than 40 students leave the state each year for veterinary school, and they are less likely to return to help the state with the demands of both companion animal vet practice and in farm and large industry vet needs.
“We all recognize that keeping down the cost of higher education is important to our citizens, and by adopting a three-year program and operating the college internally we seek to make our doctor of veterinary medicine degree more affordable,” Shields said. “The national average for annual vet school tuition is over $50,000 for in-state and more than $80,000 out of state. We will propose a much lower tuition, and that is possible because we are operating as a public university.”
A-State’s next steps toward welcoming its first students will be curriculum approval by university officials and the Arkansas Division of Higher Education (ADHE), both of which are in process. The ASU System Board of Trustees is expected to take action on the proposal at its March meeting. An initial cohort of 120 students is anticipated.
The use of existing on-campus facilities during the launch phase for first- and second-year classrooms, laboratories and college office space will also be an important factor in both keeping costs in check and achieving an opening as soon as practical. It will also allow A-State to concurrently begin work on additional buildings, likely as a part of the university’s research and teaching farm.
“The A-State College of Veterinary Medicine is being made possible by collaboration,” Shields said. “Something I’ve stressed is we have to be ready to work outside of our silos and work together, and I’ve been so very impressed by the way our deans and faculty involved have pitched in. I’d also like to thank our now interim provost Len Frey who has done a considerable amount of work with our primary consultant, Dr. Jim Lloyd, who is the former dean of the veterinary school at the University of Florida.”
The future College of Veterinary Medicine will add a faculty and support staff of approximately 40 professionals. The initial up-front equipment and facility investment cost of $15 million to launch will be funded by a combination of potential sources including CVM tuition, fund-raising opportunities, university reserves and potential bonding initiatives.