After nearly three years of delays due to the pandemic, Arkansas State University on Tuesday said that it's moving forward with plans to start a veterinary school.
University leaders said they plan to file a letter of intent to establish the College of Veterinary Medicine with the state Department of Higher Education ahead of the group's quarterly meeting on April 28. A full proposal would follow at the department's quarterly meeting on July 28.
After that, pending approval from the Higher Learning Commission, the university in Jonesboro would select a dean and pursue accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In the meantime, the university is working to fully develop the veterinary college's curriculum with the Graduate Council, its governing body for graduate programs. Len Frey, interim provost, said the college will have a three-year distributive model of clinical education that utilizes off-site specialists instead of a traditional teaching hospital on campus.
An initial cohort of 120 students is expected.
A-State has decided to move forward without for-profit education company Adtalem Global Education of Chicago as a partner. The two had been studying the creation of the medical school as a public-private partnership.
"At the end of the day, we all recognized 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," Chancellor Todd Shields said. "The national average for a vet school tuition is over $50,000 for an in-state student and more than $80,000 for an out-of-state student. We will propose a tuition much lower, and that is possible because we are operating as a public university."
In a statement, A-State said the future college will add a faculty and support staff of about 40 people. It estimates initial equipment and facility investment costs of $15 million, which it said would be funded by a combination of potential sources including the new college's tuition, fundraising, university reserves and bonding initiatives.
A-State's veterinary school is one of two in development in Arkansas. Lyon College recently received initial approval from the Higher Learning Commission to offer a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. The private liberal arts college in Batesville plans to locate the veterinary school, and the state's first dentistry school, at the Heifer International campus in downtown Little Rock.
Lyon on Tuesday said it was preparing to submit accreditation applications. Pending approval, inaugural classes could start as early as 2024 or 2025.
"Arkansas ranks 49th in the nation for access to veterinary care. It is exciting to see such an emphasis on closing this critical coverage gap in our state," Melissa Taverner, president of Lyon College, said in a statement. "Lyon College is proud of its progress to build the state’s first veterinary school."
Both schools would help to address a historic shortage of rural veterinarians. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers in 500 counties across 46 states reported critical shortages this year, an all-time high.
In Arkansas, 30 counties reported a critical shortage of veterinarians for farm animals, and another 12 counties reported a high shortage.
With the anticipated retirement of current veterinarians, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges projects the need for another 41,000 in the profession by 2030.
A-State said fall 2026 is the preliminary date for its inaugural class. The university said the timeline will become more clear as the school gains administrative clearances.
"We have an audacious and exciting goal in front of us," Shields said.