Congressional action could help alleviate – or worsen – veterinary student debt

Addressing Student Debt Driving Veterinary SuccessStudent debt is a primary concern across the veterinary profession. While there is no simple fix for this complex issue, Congress has several opportunities to take actions that could help alleviate the burden of student debt for veterinarians. Dr. Kent McClure, chief government relations officer for the AVMA, joined us to discuss the outlook for higher education legislation in the 115th Congress.

What are some of the key legislative opportunities to address student debt in the coming year?
Because student loans are a complex financial issue, there are several different avenues through which Congress could address student debt. The most likely routes are through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act next year or through budget reconciliation. Additionally, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 100 bills related to student loans and financial aid. There also are opportunities to address student debt through tax reform.

What are the best outcomes for the veterinary profession with these pieces of legislation?
The AVMA has a key set of higher education principles that we’re looking to see implemented as Congress moves forward with higher education legislation, and each principle aims to reduce the student debt burden facing veterinarians. A few examples of what we’d like to see Congress do are eliminate origination fees, lower interest rates, maintain or expand the federal student loan borrowing limits, and increase awareness of income-driven repayment plans. You can read all of our principles in our Higher Education Act issue brief.

As far as stand-alone legislation is concerned, one of our key priorities is passing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act. This legislation would change the tax code to expand loan repayment opportunities for food animal and public health veterinarians who practice in federally-designated shortage areas. The principles of this legislation could potentially be implemented through tax reform as well.

It seems there are a lot of legislative opportunities to improve the student loan environment for veterinarians. Is there any legislation that could worsen student debt prospects for veterinarians?
Definitely. There are a few proposals that the AVMA opposes, and one of the biggest threats is the reduction or elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Lawmakers have been eyeing this program for cuts for several years now, and the effort gained momentum this fall. Unfortunately, there are several different avenues through which this loan forgiveness could be cut. The appropriations process poses a big danger to this program, as lawmakers could choose to reduce or eliminate its funding. The program also could be at risk during budget reconciliation and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. There is also a stand-alone bill that would cap loan repayment under the program at $57,500.

The good news is that Congress is being very responsive to the concerns of our members around this issue. They’ve received thousands of letters from the veterinary community, and we’re making sure they’re hearing the stories of veterinarians who are counting on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Congress really values hearing from our veterinary constituents, and the efforts of the AVMA and our members are making an effective case for this program.

What can veterinarians and veterinary students do to help?
As I mentioned, members of Congress are very responsive to their constituents, and they are particularly interested in what veterinarians have to say on student loan issues. I encourage veterinarians and veterinary students to write or call their legislators about student loan issues that impact them. The AVMA’s Congressional Advocacy Network website makes it very easy to look up contact information for your lawmakers and quickly send them editable, pre-written letters on key issues, so it’s a great resource to use for advocacy.

AVMA also provides opportunities for members who want to become more involved in the political process. Students can spend a month in Washington as government relations externs, and veterinarians at any stage in their career can apply to serve as an AVMA congressional fellow, providing scientific counsel to a congressional office. I also encourage members to consider joining our Political Action Committee, which is a terrific way to amplify our advocacy efforts. You can visit to learn more about these opportunities.

3 thoughts on “Congressional action could help alleviate – or worsen – veterinary student debt

  1. The solution to the problem does not lie in congress nor in more student loan/forgiveness programs. The solution is cutting the bloated administration and outrageously out-of-control spending and rising costs of the veterinary schools themselves. When LBJ created federal funding for education, its intent most certainly was not to allow schools to spend without regard to amount. The school and the cost of the education is the problem. Less is the answer and not more. Less administration; less faculty who just read the same, tired PowerPoint they created a decade or more ago; less waste with redundant IT and other departments that duplicate efforts from the parent school. Not more comittees, more programs, more legislation which will inevitably lead to more costs.

  2. I am a 1972 graduate of Auburn and am appalled at the massive increase in a veterinary education. One problem I see is the high interest rate charged by the Dept. of ED, 6 – 8.5 %. If we and other associations could convince Congress to establish a loan fund administered by the DOE charging 0.5% to cover administrative costs it would drastically lower monthly payments. This could be a revolving fund. As payments are made the money would be available to fund more loans. This should also lower the default rate. Another answer may be to make undergraduate and veterinary school a 5 year program going year round. Fewer years means less debt.It could be designed that the graduate would receive both a BS and DVM/VMD degree.

  3. This issue is quite real to me even after over 30 years in practice. I serve on a Veterinary Schools admissions committee and take Veterinary students for two week rotations for private practice clerkships. What I have noticed is a shift towards young women of wealthy parents as many view the debt issue as a huge negative compared to return. While most solutions focus on loan repayment or forgiveness few emphasize the rapidly rising cost. An alternative approach might be to reduce the undergraduate time to 3 years and petition change in State legislatures to allow College prepaid funds and lottery scholarship funds ( in states that have these)to be used for graduate school. This could provide a potential 25% decrease in the total debt burden while still allowing for the undergraduate “scientist” studies.