Bill eases vet student loans

Some officials are trying to set aside state funding to help pay back the cost of veterinary school.

by Benjamin Farniok

Since she was a child, Alyssa Anderson knew she wanted to work with animals.

Anderson, now a first-year student at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has hopes of becoming a certified veterinarian post-graduation with an emphasis on swine.

“I just get a good feeling when I am in a swine farm,” she said. “This is where I am meant to be.”

But once she finishes her University coursework and receives her degree, Anderson will have accumulated more than $200,000 in debt — a burden she said could limit her options for seeking ideal employment.

State lawmakers are mulling a proposal to set aside state funding for a loan forgiveness program. The program would grant up to $500,000 to large-animal veterinary students who plan to work in Minnesota’s rural and underserved areas post-graduation.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2013, the average amount of student debt for a veterinary student was more than $162,000 dollars.

Hunter Baldry, a second-year veterinary student, said her debt is like a “storm cloud” looming over her all the time, adding that she feels pressure to find a job as soon as she graduates to start paying it off.

The proposed program — which requires legislative approval before its establishment — was originally funded by the state in 2009, but it ran out of funding in 2013.

In 2010, the program awarded three veterinarians $15,000 each year for five years, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Montserrat Torremorell, College of Veterinary Medicine associate professor, said she knew of a veterinian who had received aid from the loan-forgiveness program.

“It made the whole difference for her and her family, and for her to be able to succeed in practice,” Torremorell said.

Laura Molgaard, the College of Veterinary Medicine’s associate dean for academic and student affairs, said the program promotes economic growth in the state, while also representing the state’s commitment to investing in the prevention of spreading animal-borne disease — a focus for some of the college’s research and students.

According to a 2012 report from the Department of Applied Economics, the veterinary medicine industry contributed $1.5 billion to the economy in Minnesota.

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, is co-author of the Senate’s version of the bill, which was introduced last week. He said it is important for the state to make veterinary education more affordable.

“I think we need to encourage more young people to pursue their dreams and to realize their full potential,” he said.

Ashley Hall, a veterinary student and vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, has been campaigning for two years to make veterinary school more affordable.

Recently, she lobbied in Washington, D.C., to promote a different national loan forgiveness program for veterinary students. Last year, Hall successfully lobbied for a tuition freeze for University veterinary students.

Hall said the proposed loan-forgiveness program will encourage more students to go into veterinary medicine fields, an area she said currently lacks students.

“Financially, it doesn’t make sense to go into these programs, but we need people to go into these programs,” she said.

Both Baldry and Anderson also said they support the legislation.

Baldry said the idea of additional financial assistance gives her hope for the future.

“It feels like a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.