South Dakota looks to ‘dramatically lower’ cost of vet school

University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy-science outreach specialist Eric Ronk, right, and UW-Extension Manitowoc County dairy agent Scott Gunderson identify, score and record incidence and severity of digital dermatitis on a dairy farm, using a Zinpro DD Check app developed with Dr. Dorte Dopfer, UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

Without a veterinary school in South Dakota, legislators are looking at ways to make it easier on the student loans for students wanting to pursue a veterinary degree and help fill the shortage of rural vets.

On Jan. 29, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee discussed the proposed 2+2 veterinary school program between South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

The deal would replace the agreement with Iowa State University, which has been in place for around 25 years. South Dakota funds the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for South Dakota residents going to Iowa State’s vet school.

It was initially supposed to cost roughly a half million dollars to put six students through four years of vet school, but tuition increases have brought the number closer to $650,000 per year.

“That program has been very successful,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said. “I’m sure many vets you know are graduates of that program.”

Dunn and vice president of finance and administration Rob Kohrman spoke on behalf of the bill, along with state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven, who is a graduate of the ISU program. Oedekoven supported the new bill as a way to refocus on in-state schooling.

Under the current proposition, which was presented to SDSU in 2015 by the University of Minnesota, students would spend two years in Minnesota and two years at SDSU. Instead of six students per year, the program would be open to 20. The bill would eliminate the previous partnership with ISU and shift those funds to SDSU.

“We believe it will support more and equally highly qualified veterinarians in this state,” Dunn said. “We are going to dramatically lower the cost of veterinary schooling to South Dakota residents.”

The bill requires that six students out of the 20 remain in South Dakota for four years after their schooling to work at rural practices.

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“We believe this program will be a wonderful solution to addressing the shortage of rural veterinarians,” SDSU provost Dennis Hedge said.

Based on his numbers, the program will reduce tuition for 14 students by paying $105,000 toward their costs. It will fully fund six students at $128,000 for those who commit to staying in South Dakota to work.

The SDSU administrators said the money that is currently going to ISU could be better used in South Dakota. The bill stipulates that none of the money provided by the state will leave the state. Rather, SDSU will supply scholarships to those students to cover the costs of going to U of M.

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Several ag organizations and SDSU pre-vet students spoke in favor of the bill, and no one opposed. It passed unanimously through the committee to be sent to the Senate floor.

Committee members commended students who want to take up veterinary practice.

“Not everyone wants to do surgery in a barn at 10 below,” said Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center. “It’s an incredibly big deal to encourage students willing to do that.”

Before the Senate committee could get to 2+2, Dunn and Kohrman spoke for transferring land from SDSU to the Animal Industry Board instead ahead of the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Lab renovations.

The bill passed unanimously to be sent to the House floor where it is also expected to pass easily. The Animal Industry Board holds the bonds for the renovations and should be the holder of the land, legislators said. As they did funding support last year, every member of the committee voted in favor of continuing to push forward with ADRDL renovations and wanted to see the facilities updated to modern standards.

“When I finished the tour, I was amazed they could do the work they were doing in the closets they were working with,” Cammack said.

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