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Tuesday, 21 January, 2014

Capitol Hill Briefing Highlights Scope, Implications of Educational Debt in Veterinary Medicine

Washington, D.C., January 21, 2014
– Student debt in academic veterinary medicine took the stage recently at an AAVMC/AVMA Congressional briefing organized through the Congressional Veterinary Medical Caucus. Speakers at the U.S. Capitol shared data related to veterinary medical education, including tuition and student debt, funding strategies and important provisions of the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that have the potential to improve the situation.

At the briefing, AAVMC Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity Lisa Greenhill described the typical veterinary medical student who graduates with $162,000 in accumulated educational debt. Soaring student debt across higher education has emerged as a major public policy issue but it has been especially troublesome in academic veterinary medicine, where tuition has risen and salaries lag behind other health professions like human medicine and dentistry.

Kevin Cain, the AAVMC’s director of governmental affairs, and Gina Luke, the AVMA’s assistant director for governmental relations, are working with the bipartisan Veterinary Medicine Caucus to help advance a legislative agenda that includes proposals related to the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and a proposal to make payments through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) tax free.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s VMLRP program pays up to $25,000 each year towards qualified educational loans of eligible veterinarians who agree to serve for three years in areas where there is a designated shortage of veterinarians. However, the loans are currently taxed at the rate of 39 percent. The AAVMC and the AVMA want to eliminate the tax penalty in order to make repayment options more equitable and consistent with other health professions.

Proposals related to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act include a reconsideration of the rates and loan terms currently available to professional and graduate students, including a refinance option, the re-establishment of subsidized loans, and an interest rate decrease for professional and graduate loans to match the rate for undergraduates. Other priorities include support for financial aid programs that help diverse students gain access to higher education and support for programs that increase financial literacy.

Briefing participants also heard about the experiences of a recent graduate, Dr. Eric Deeble, who works as an AVMA Fellow in the office of Senator Kirsten D. Gillibrand (D-NY). For Deeble, the drive to become a veterinarian stemmed from a desire to have interesting, meaningful employment that makes a positive difference in the lives of animals and people. Despite carrying a more-than-average debt load of $206,000, “I knew what I was getting into and I would do it again,” he said.

The AAVMC and the AVMA plan to present two Congressional briefings a year on different issues in the profession.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect and improve the health and welfare of animals, people and the environment by advancing academic veterinary medicine. Its members include 35 veterinary medical colleges in the United States and Canada, nine departments of veterinary science, eight departments of comparative medicine, thirteen international colleges of veterinary medicine, and six affiliate colleges of veterinary medicine:

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Jeffrey Douglas or Jeanne Johnson
AAVMC Communications
Phone:  202-371-9195 x144

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