Fixing the debt: Your profession is working to ease the burden

Life’s not a motion picture, and you can’t edit out the accumulation of student debt by leaving your college years on the cutting-room floor. But when you amass dozens of organizations and 100 volunteers with a common cause and mission, you can certainly try to rewrite the script.

That’s exactly what the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges are attempting to do through a collaborative Fix the Debt initiative. Launched back in April during a summit hosted by the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the initiative has really taken shape, moving from discussion to action.

We’re tackling the issue from a variety of angles, each of which is beiFix the debt...Our Future, Our Responsibilityng addressed by strategic working groups comprised of representatives from across the profession, including veterinary students, colleges of veterinary medicine, state and allied associations, practice owners and other experts. Our collective goal is to reduce the debt-to-income ratio, which now stands at about 2:1, to 1.4:1. It’s not going to be easy getting there, but our strategy is designed to help gradually reduce the ratio to a more manageable level that will lead to a better place for young professionals both professionally and personally.

The working groups are focused on two areas – reducing debt and increasing income – but rest assured that each group is working toward the collective goal of reducing that debt-to-income ratio. The focus areas and the strategies associated with each are:

  • Reducing debt:
    • Increasing scholarship endowments
    • Enhancing student financial literacy
    • Streamlining the veterinary school curriculum
    • Advocating to governments
    • Minimizing the cost of borrowing
  • Increasing income:
    • Building professional skills and competencies
    • Improving workplace on-boarding
    • Focusing on preventive medicine
    • Increasing practice ownership literacy
    • Expanding career option awareness

Let’s look at just a few of the ways our Fix the Debt team is working to reduce educational debt.

  • In addition to our ongoing efforts urging Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we are also specifically urging improvements to the terms and conditions of federal student loans, as well as provisions concerning repayment and refinancing. As part of our face-to-face advocacy efforts, we’re circulating an issue brief on Federal Student Aid Policy to bring focused attention to these critical issues.
  • We’re encouraging AVMA and Student AVMA members to join our Congressional Advocacy Network so that they can become educated on the issues and help us spread our influence in Washington, D.C.
  • We’re exploring the feasibility of enhancing financial literacy through a variety of approaches, including educating students and young veterinarians about budgeting, interest accrual on loans and how they have the ability to borrow less; and developing a continuing education model for financial literacy for both students and early career veterinarians.

When it comes to increasing veterinarians’ income, some of our efforts are focused on career resources, on-boarding, practice ownership and entrepreneurship.

Another example of our Fix the Debt strategies (and we don’t have the space to include all of our efforts in this one blog post) includes the development of continuing education programs focused specifically on the Fix the Debt initiative for upcoming AVMA and other professional meetings.

The combined efforts of the groups and individuals dedicated to fixing the debt are helping us focus on the issue and allowing us to gather our resources. We are working to bring all of these efforts together into a cohesive strategy with organized leadership and achievable goals.

We are looking to rewrite the script, because who doesn’t like a happy ending.

22 thoughts on “Fixing the debt: Your profession is working to ease the burden

  1. I applaud the AVMA and the veterinary college associations for starting to address this problem instead of just accepting it as “the way it has to be”. It has reached a breaking point for these kids. It is no wonder when the students graduate, they are forced to take better paying jobs in non-rural areas just to survive even if they don’t want to be there. Please keep up the good work and please continue to support the AVMA, local associations and your alma mater.

  2. I believe states used to subsidize veterinary education costs. So state legislatures can become part of the solution; though in these state budget deficit days it will be a tough sell.

  3. This is one of the big reasons why I did not renew my AVMA membership this year. They ask for help understanding our problems, give us surveys we have to PAY to see the results to, and they don’t listen to any of it. The biggest problem is tuition rates, and they know it. Their solution: pretend to do something while trying to increase their subscriber base (which is more vets!). Trying to teach students how to budget— what a joke. Why are these vet schools not being taught how to budget? When I was at school, they claimed to our class that they were LOSING money on us! 2/3 of our class was paying out of state tuition. These people are so out of touch it is nauseating at this point. How is budgeting going to significantly touch $180,000 in debt with no, or little income when you are in vet school? Did they think we were partying all week; splurging on vacations, going to the movies? We had no time, or money to do anything! My food came from a super Walmart, not some fancy grocery store. I borrowed just enough to get by and have a little extra in case of emergencies, and thanks to our government not allowing us to write off a significant portion of our interest, I will be paying off my loan for 30 years instead of 10.
    AVMA: if you want to stop losing us, LISTEN to us! These vet schools are charging way too much, and now, with many of the newer schools outsourcing their students, they are charging more and giving less! We do not need more schools, we need financial reform of the ones we have! Speak to the government about allowing us to deduct our student loan interest from our taxes. It is a huge problem! I paid over $20,000 in interest alone my first year on the ten year repayment plan and could only deduct $2,500. It was a joke. I WANTED to pay back my loan in 10 years instead of 30, and was prepared to do so until I realized I could not pay that steep of a loan payment and my taxes every year. Something had to give.
    When it appears you are listening, I will be able to justify paying over $300 for your membership. Right now, in large part due to my vet school loans (not undergraduate loans- why you are focusing on that I don’t understand), I can’t afford you, or justify the expense.

  4. Undergraduate and graduate institutions must be held accountable for what they charge! The fat MUST be trimmed off the pig. Get rid of the tenure system for starters. Hold professors accountable for their work. (Starting in elementary school!!). Do we really need dorms that are nicer than the Taj Mahal? The higher educational system, as it is, is unsustainable. There will be attrition.

  5. One quick method of helping with the debt load would be for the Dept. of Education to lower interest rate to 0%. Currently these rates run 5.5 – 8.5%. At a time when Treasury Dept. loans money to banks at almost 0% why should the government be using students and their families to generate income for the government. If a well educated population is considered good for the future of the country, I think no interest loans would be money well spent by the taxpayers. This to me would be an easy start for Congress to address the student debt problem.

  6. So let’s face it, college has become BIG business. New veterinary schools are being built and existing schools are increasing class sizes resulting in every year more new graduates being pumped out into an oversupplied job market in which salaries can’t support the debt load. Now you want to streamline the educational program and speed up the rate (and number) of new graduates hitting the workforce?! I don’t see the logic here. I believe the quantity will go up at the expense of quality (preparedness) of graduates. Yes, the debt load of each individual student will go down but so will their earning ability with the new streamlined education.

  7. A wise dairy veterinarian brought up a good point when we were addressed by the Dean of our state’s veterinary school: shortening the time in undergrad will indeed lessen debt, but one must also consider that 2 years in undergrad will be almost exclusively gen eds and classes required for vet school application. We will be eliminating all the very important, though not strictly required, animal science classes, not to mention blocking out enriching courses like music, art, foreign language… whatever the student may be interested in. These types of courses make a better veterinarian and a better person. Animal science classes are particularly important for those students who intend to be food animal veterinarians, for a more comprehensive understanding of agriculture. Some may not share my opinion, but I don’t think shortening time in undergrad is a viable solution for most traditional students.
    Laura Conley

  8. I don’t understand why I can’t write off the interest I have & will be paying for the 30+ year term of my student loans.

  9. I’d like to try to simplify the cause of huge debt incurred by veterinary students. First is the enormous tuition at virtually ‘all’
    stateside and Caribbean schools both undergraduate and graduate. Why the high cost: huge staffs that continue to grow for increased research programs, and prestigious honorary chairs, and increasing faculty salaries. Then there is an eight year requirement to reach a degree.I agree with an earlier comment that two years in a pre-vet curriculum is adequate as proven by earlier programs. And then I believe that a three year professional veterinary education, if it would be streamlined to the necessities leaving the frills out we could go from eight years to five years and students could save approximately $150,000 and have three additional years to work earning dollars that they don’t have to spend on tuition. There”s more iff the universities, A.V.M.A. and licensing organizations really want to solve the problem.

    • Agreed on the chairs, and faculty salaries! I couldn’t find a single professor salary at the UGA CVM that was less than 50,000, yet we have many new grads and even veterinarian who have been out a while making that same money. Furthermore, the vast majority were making between 100,000-190,000 with the dean making over 265,000. I just can’t imagine why we are allowing these kinds of salaries to grow, while we also watch student tuition climb 6% year after year with loan rates over 6%. Do the math. It should be an embarrassment to the universities, and their staff that the students they are producing are saddled with debt that effects their future for 20+ years. Teaching should be for passion, not profit. You can also see massive fiscal mismanagement just in UGA if you visit the new 90+ million dollar facility. How can the government give money to help with student tuition when they are saddled with that massive bill? Of course, this is one man’s opinion, but I am sure my fellow classmates and recent graduates would share my thoughts.

  10. I was fortunate to graduate 50 years ago when tuition was a few hundred $$ a year, but starting salaries were also low 10,000$ more or less. Prevet was done in 2 yrs which helped to reduce cost. Many foreign colleges today graduate veterinarians with 6 total college years. I have worked with many of those and found them to be very good. Could we not consider a 2 year prevet program?

    • In North America it is a 2 year prevet program. I did 4 years and gained a BSc but only because it took my 3 years of applying to get accepted to vet school.

  11. What about addressing debt load for those of us who have graduated already? Vet school has always been a costly endeavor. I graduated in ’98. Have been paying my loan debt for 17 yrs now; have never missed a payment. Still have $16,000 left. I would looooove to have some assistance: some costs deferred, waived, forgiven, forgotten. Why is all the hoopla only about current grads?!!!

    • Same boat. ’97 grad, $13,000 left. Now consider the 6-fold+ increase in tuition over the past 20 years.
      “Financial literacy” for prospective new vet students? The only relevant counseling should be: Unless you can get it paid for through scholarships, grants, or generous relatives, don’t do it. There isn’t an education out there worth being in debt for the rest of your life.

      • Yep, same boat as well. Graduated 2000, and still owe over $189,000. I am currently working for peanuts at a non-profit (and feeling used) hoping to gut it out for another 7 years in order to get this debt burden lifted eventually. Unfortunately, my quality of life is sacrificed for the foreseeable future. I would really like to see more of an effort to help those of us who graduated 10 plus years ago and who still owe on our loans. I too had every intention of completely paying back my loans but it quickly became apparent that my salary (now hourly pay & zero benefits) could in no way pay for it. In hindsight, as much as I love working with animals, I wish I had never gone to vet school. RN’s make more money than I do with less debt and more respect.

    • Thanks for writing, Dr. Vanesian,

      The AVMA is concerned with both reducing the acquisition of debt and helping veterinarians manage the debt after it has occurred, and we are looking at both opportunities to lessen the debt-service obligation and improve the income-earning potential to reduce the real debt-to-income ratio. These efforts surround the debt-to-income key performance indicator (KPI).

      We also have efforts underway to improve the second KPI that we measure – net present value (NPV) of the veterinary degree. Most veterinarians more than 10 years out of veterinary school graduated with an average debt-to-income ratio of less than 1.4:1 and had other debt-service tools and subsidies not now available. But we are nonetheless concerned about the decline in the NPV of the DVM degree. To reverse this trend, we are looking at strategies to improve the demand for veterinarians and veterinary services, and working with veterinary practices to help them improve the demand for their veterinary goods and services. Through these efforts, we hope to improve the income-earning potential of all veterinarians, and thus reverse the trend in declining net present value.

  12. Jenn,
    I must disagree with you.
    Ross and some of the “Caribbean” schools are AVMA accredited at this point, and produce some fantastic Veterinarians. These vets live and work in the US. If we allow the cost of living and cost of paying back tuition to deter these accredited vets, and reward only stateside schools/students with a lowered tuition, we will loose out on some of the most gifted doctors in our field. I do agree that increased financial education is needed. Most of these impassioned vets go to “Caribbean schools because of their passion and willingness to adapt to a different country to become a vet, and may not be fully aware of the financial burden they will incur upon graduation. Another factor to take into consideration is the study published a number of years ago that showed state side school with their 4.0 GPA students; had a much higher attrition rate once in the field practicing as a vet, where as the “Caribbean” schools had they higher attrition rate prior to graduation and their graduates had markedly increased longevity in the field. As Veterinarians, we should all help each other out of this financial crisis, and not contribute to a long dead stigma of “Caribbean” school vet students not deserving the same treatment as state-side students

  13. How are you addressing the vet schools that are currently charging exorbitant tuitions and those that have markedly high attrition rates, e.g. Ross and other Caribbean schools?

    • They charge a lot because people go there that can’t get into other schools – I knew it would be hard to get in so I got As and worked at a hospital for experience and did an undergraduate research degree. I also moved to the state I got in out of state and reapplied the following year to lower the tuition – also cost was a huge factor in what schools I even applied to. My best friend did 3 years undergrad applied to the school in the state she lived in and worked nights and weekends. I think lower costs some for instate schools but that is the price you pay is you go to those schools.

    • Kendal:

      I agree. Under Reducing Debt there is no mention of the 500 lb gorilla in the room: The skyrocketing cost of tuition at Colleges of Veterinary Medicine. No surprise when we consider the cozy relationship between AVMA-COE and the vet schools. To me, it is entirely disingenuous to list Financial Literacy on the part of students but not similarly hold Colleges accountable for the cost of education. In fixing this urgent problem no stone can go unturned. We must think outside the box!

      • I agree with Jim. I was fortunate enough to have my school paid for, however, my wife is currently at The UGA CVM and tuition this year was 3,000 more than when I stared 5 years ago…do the math. Skyrocketing tuition is an understatement. Get control of tuition…then go from there!

        • I have to agree with this also. You can educate prospective and current vet students as well as recent grads on budgeting, loan repayment options, borrowing less, etc. all you want but when it comes down to it, if tuition keeps going up at the rate that it has compared with salaries, it’s not really going to matter (much) how much financial literacy you instill in them. At the end of the day, they have to borrow enough to cover their costs for school that isn’t covered by scholarships, family, savings, etc. and graduate vets have to be able to have enough money to pay their rent, pay their bills and put food on the table on top of paying for their loans. It’s hard to want to be an entrepreneur or a practice owner when you can’t see past the vast amount of debt you’re drowning in. Education on borrowing is important but I think the rapidly rising cost of tuition is the biggest problem driving the rest. Practice owners can only afford to pay associates so much based on the income of their business so trying to get salaries to match the rising cost of tuition is going to be a difficult, if not impossible task.