Colleges hack programs as state aid wanes


Gainesville, Fla.-As state governments face a third fiscal year overshadowed by the nation's economic slump, lawmakers are predicted to hand down budget cuts likely to impair veterinary college programs and their personnel.

Gainesville, Fla.-As state governments face a third fiscal year overshadowed by the nation's economic slump, lawmakers are predicted to hand down budget cuts likely to impair veterinary college programs and their personnel.

Tuition and fee hikes are conventional cures for dying revenue, but theycan't restore the millions stripped from higher education as states reinin support, college leaders say.

Texas A&M University's veterinary college, for example, relies ontax dollars for a third of the program's income. The college lost $900,000in state aid just last year, and Dean Richard Adams, DVM, sees additionalcuts coming down the pipeline. Dwindling funds are pushing many of the country's27 accredited veterinary colleges into the red, he says.

"We're a moving target," Adams says. "One way or another,all the colleges are tied to state budgets, whether they're public or not.It's going to take a lot of innovative, aggressive ways to find new revenue,but it has to be done."

'We're feeling it'

For universities hit hardest, cutting staff and programs have been toughdecisions, which some colleges can't afford. While Kansas State University's(KSU) veterinary college stays afloat largely due to a recently awarded$11 million government research grant, the program still faces an 8 percent,$1.3 million reduction in state support. Dean Ralph Richardson, DVM, hasincreased tuition, beefed up class sizes and frozen open faculty positions.

The program isn't battered by just Kansas' budget woes. The Universityof Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), which has funneled undergraduates into KSU'sveterinary college for 15 years, plans to drop its contract to pay the out-of-statetuition difference for UNL alumni. Nebraska lawmakers are expected to cutUNL state aid by $30 million over two years, and closing the contract savesthe university $1.8 million.

"Over half the veterinarians in Nebraska are KSU alumni," Richardsonsays. "They have an understanding of our economics and type of veterinarycare expected. They're committed to food animal veterinary medicine, andNebraska depends on that."

More pain for farms

Also hurting collegiate access to farms is Virginia Tech and Universityof Maryland, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine,which, due to dramatic drops in state support, has eliminated its entireextension program.

The historic program was founded to transmit the intellectual bountyof the university out into the farms and fields where knowledge could impactproductivity, college spokesman Jeff Douglas says. Cutting the program savesthe college roughly $200,000.

"We're a land grant university that's been forced to end animalhealth tips for farmers, producer group seminars; we've had to eliminateit all," he says. "At this point we've not had to lay off anyfaculty or staff, but we have a lot of frozen positions.

"The health of the economy is not good. Virginia's in a real quagmireas far as the budget's concerned."

Cuts squash research

Virginia's not alone. In Florida, the governor's draft budget includesplans to strip $500 million from higher education, and officials with theUniversity of Florida's (UF) veterinary college expect to be hit hard inthe next fiscal year. The program has incurred $1.1 million in reductionssince 2000.

"I don't know how this will play out, but we're down to the bonefrom the last cuts," says Dean Joe DiPietro, DVM. "If we haveadditional cuts, that costs us people as well as decreased research andproductivity. Tuition increases won't cover this."

The cuts will impact the program, DiPietro says, by forcing the collegeto come up with external support for faculty and research.

"The irony of it all is colleges are judged based on not only theDVM commodity they produce, but their scholarship from the point of researchand knowledge," he says. "It's part of our accreditation. We doless research when we have less people because the primary thing we do asa college is turn out veterinarians."

Pushed to the limits

Even graduating veterinarians is no small task, especially when projectedcuts in state aid could eat half a college's income, as it stands for theUniversity of Tennessee veterinary program.

Predicting a nine percent, $1.3 million cut for the 2003-2004 schoolyear, Dean Michael Blackwell, DVM, says losses could mean 50 percent ofthe University of Tennessee veterinary college's budget. To stave off layoffs,he's turning to enlarged class sizes, tuition increases and price hikesin the teaching hospital.

"When you need money to operate that's no longer coming from taxdollars, you must depend on the people coming to you for services - thestudents and clients," he says. "It's unfortunate. Veterinaryschools are graduating huge debt loads, and salaries aren't keeping up.It's not a long-term solution. Eventually, you price yourself out."

Trimming overhead also means delaying the new equipment buys and strappingtravel, he adds.

"The colleges have a role in preparing tomorrow's docs," Blackwellsays. "We need money to buy new equipment, we just can't have what'sgood enough today. With concerns about newly emerging diseases and terrorism,this is the worst time for states to be making any kind of cuts."

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