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Agency Staff: Texas Doesn't Need Any More Traditional Veterinary Schools

The staff of Texas' higher education oversight agency sees no need for a new traditional veterinary school in the state, according to a draft report on the issue.

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* Correction appended. 

The staff of Texas' higher education oversight agency sees no need for a new traditional veterinary school in the state, according to a draft report on the issue. 

That could complicate Texas Tech University's plans to open its own school in Amarillo in 2019, though Tech officials remain confident. They say their proposed school is nontraditional and meets the needs described by the agency. Meanwhile, Texas A&M University, which has the only vet school in the state, seized on the report as a sign that its plan to address veterinary needs in Texas is superior. 

The report was compiled by Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board staff members predicts that a new traditional school would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And, the report says, there has been little increase in demand for veterinary education in Texas. 

"The high cost of establishing a new veterinary school would outweigh the potential benefits," the report says. 

Tech received a copy of the draft this week. The coordinating board will vote Thursday on whether to adopt it. Tech officials said they think the report is good news, saying it cited a need for large animal vets and vets who work in rural areas. That would be the focus of their new school, they said. 

"We, quite frankly, find it encouraging," said Tech System Chancellor Robert Duncan. 

It remains to be seen if or how the report will affect Tech's aspirations, though. Duncan said Tech's vet school would be unique and focus largely on bringing veterinarians to rural areas. The report's concerns are mainly focused on schools that would produce vets for small animals. And it does say that the board "may consider a proposal for a new college of veterinary medical education that is designed to specifically produce large animal veterinarians in an innovative, cost efficient manner that does not duplicate existing efforts."

That's exactly what the Tech school would do, Duncan said. But he also acknowledged that the school probably wouldn't focus solely on large animals.

"Rural vets treat small animals and large animals," he said. "Even as a matter of accreditation, you have to have the broad spectrum of education."

In order to open the school, Tech will need appropriations from the Texas Legislature and approval of academic programs from the coordinating board. That approval isn't on the agenda for Thursday. Duncan said Tech will probably seek approval for its programs some time before or after the 2017 legislative session. 

If the board signs off on the draft report, Tech may have to show that its vision is limited, given the concerns raised. The report says professional veterinarian organizations have cited underemployment of veterinarians in recent years due to "excess capacity" of vet school graduates.

The agency staff also estimated that new school facilities could range in cost from $100 million to $500 million. Annual personnel costs, meanwhile, could be around $13 million. Duncan didn't give a cost estimate for Tech's school on Wednesday. But he said Tech would look to partner with local clinics to teach students, rather than open an expensive new animal hospital. The board's draft report praises that kind of model. 

At A&M, application totals for vet school been relatively flat in recent years. The report cites that as a sign that demand for vet school spots isn't high. A&M is also working on a $120 million expansion of its own school, which could handle moderate growth in demand in the future, the report says. 

The A&M System is working on sending veterinary faculty and researchers to some of its campuses beyond College Station in the coming years in hopes of broadening the geographic diversity of veterinary students, they said. That, A&M officials say, will help ease concerns about shortages of large animal vets and vets in rural areas. 

“Our proposal is the only one that tries to address all the key concerns, including achieving greater diversity in the veterinary profession, increasing the number of large animal and rural veterinarians, and meeting the unique needs of multiple regions of the state," said Eleanor Green, dean of A&M College of Veterinary Sciences. "And we do it at a fraction of the cost of creating a new veterinary medical education program from scratch.”

Disclosure: Texas Tech University and The Texas A&M University System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the dean of the A&M College of Veterinary Sciences. 

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