State needs veterinary education funding

The media has given great attention to New Jersey race track officials’ concerns about the rapid spread of the potentially deadly equine herpes virus EHV-1, which could tragically affect the multimillion dollar horse industry in our state. The public needs to be equally informed about the state’s long-term policies of apathy and negligence in educating veterinarians to confront these health problems.

There is no program in our state offering our brightest scientists the chance to earn veterinary medical doctorates in preparation for careers in the equine industry, the food animal industry, companion animal health, exotic animal health, wildlife and research.

Politicians refused to fund a state veterinary school and since the 1970s, New Jersey asked other states to “save some seats” for our few select veterinary students at their institutions, and we paid a small sti-pend to those institutions for this privilege. Most of the out-of-state schools opted to use this stipend to offer in-state tuition to our students to relieve them of some of the excessive costs of moving to their states.

This “save some seats” program was extremely cost-effective; though not having a veterinary degree facility in-state has drastically eliminated educational and research opportunities for decades.

As a reference point, tuition, fees and expenses for a veterinary education are $48,000 a year for out-of-state students and $36,000 for in-state students at New York’s Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. It is extremely difficult to gain admission to an out-of-state veterinary college since they prefer to give the educational advantage to students in their own state.

Last summer, Gov. Corzine did a line item veto cutting all funds for veterinary education, financially abandoning 80 of New Jersey’s best students who were already participating in veterinary programs at Cornell, Tufts, Penn, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Illinois and Tuskegee under the 1970s “save a seat” program. Our legislators presented the program as worthwhile, but Gov. Corzine decided funding this was not of value.

We essentially “farmed” them out-of-state (which eliminates the affordable option of living home while completing their studies at a state school). Then we completely cut all supplemental funds.

There was a need to tighten the belt in New Jersey, so while New Jersey institutions of higher education generally saw a 10 to 20 percent reduction in their well-funded budgets of $275 million (Rutgers) or $195 million (University of Medicine and Dentistry), the veterinary education funding for the state of New Jersey was cut 100 percent and is now $0.

The cost-efficient veterinary contract seat program operated on 0.5 percent of the budget of the Uni-versity of Medicine and Den-tistry, which educates doctors and dentists for only one species, humans.

In light of this treatment, I would wonder how many of these veterinary students will return to practice in New Jersey? Veterinarian salaries do not come near those figures of other medical professionals and these students typically graduate with $150,000 to $200,000 in student loans.

These are the future health professionals to whom we will turn for answers when crucial problems such as the equine herpes virus arise. Animal health overlaps human health and economy on so many levels it is bizarre to believe veterinary education is of no value to our governor and elected officials. If you support reinstatement of veterinary education funding, please communicate this to your local representative and directly to Gov. Corzine through letters or through e-mail.

Jeanne Roche

Freehold Township