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Arkansas State details plans for College of Veterinary Medicine

Private partner considered, rejected by Ryan Anderson | January 18, 2023 at 5:12 a.m.
The Welcome Center at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is shown in this 2019 file photo.

After considering a public-private partnership for its veterinary school, Arkansas State University will instead be the sole operator, Chancellor Todd Shields announced Tuesday.

In January 2020, Arkansas State announced a collaboration agreement with Adtalem Global Education, a private health care developer, for possible creation of a veterinary school for the Jonesboro campus. But Shields and others have decided it's in the "best interests" of the university, students, and the state to go it alone, he said. It will be "an A-State degree with A-State faculty and facilities," which he believes will help contain costs for students.

The national average annual veterinary school tuition is more than $50,000, if a student is paying in-state tuition, and more than $80,000 for out-of-state students, Shields said. Arkansas State "will propose a tuition much lower," and both Chuck Welch -- president of the Arkansas State University System -- and the ASU System board of trustees "are behind us."

"This has been a topic of discussion for three years, but as our discussions and due diligence progressed, our commitment became even stronger," Welch said in a news release from Arkansas State. "Our ASU System Board of Trustees has been enthusiastic about this possibility from the beginning."

The future College of Veterinary Medicine will add a faculty and support staff of approximately 40 professionals, according to Arkansas State. The initial up-front equipment and facility investment cost of $15 million to launch will be funded by a combination of potential sources, including tuition, fundraising, university reserves and potential bonding initiatives.


Despite the state's significant agricultural sector, Arkansas ranks 49th in the U.S. for veterinarians per population, with only 14 veterinarians per 100,000 people, according to

There's also a national shortage of veterinarians. The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges projects the need for another 41,000 veterinarians by 2030.

For years, Ed Salo -- an associate professor of History at Arkansas State, associate director of Heritage Studies, and president of the Faculty Senate -- has "watched hundreds [of] our brightest students" leave the state to study veterinary medicine, and when they leave, they often don't return, which is a loss for "our region and our state," he said. Creating a College of Veterinary Medicine at Arkansas State "will help fix the problem."

Arkansas will go from being without a veterinary school to having a pair of them, as Lyon College has already announced plans for its veterinary school, which will be part of the new Institute of Health Sciences. Lyon College is also planning a dental school.

Though Lyon College -- a private, liberal arts institution founded in 1872 -- is in Batesville, the Institute of Health Sciences will be in Little Rock. Lyon President Melissa P. Taverner hopes to begin offering classes in both the dental and veterinary schools next year or in 2025.

With the lack of access to veterinary care in Arkansas, "it's exciting to see such an emphasis on closing this critical coverage gap in our state," Taverner said Tuesday. "Lyon College is proud of its progress to build the state's first veterinary school."

Shields expects an initial group of 120 students for the ASU veterinary school.

Classes will begin "when we are able," he said. "We are committed to providing more veterinarians to meet the needs of our state."


Shields, who was named chancellor last year, has made the ASU College of Veterinary Medicine a top priority, even talking about it repeatedly during his interviews for the chancellor position, he said.

"This is so important to me, [as] we have a chance to be the only university in Arkansas with a medical school, a veterinary school and a long-standing commitment to research."

Arkansas State has the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, as well as its Agricultural Research and Teaching Farm in Jonesboro, and other agricultural research stations, which will aid the veterinary program, officials said. The university also has an Equine Center, which has become a cornerstone of the College of Agriculture.

The New York Institute of Technology has a College of Osteopathic Medicine on the Jonesboro campus of Arkansas State University.

The ASU College of Veterinary Medicine will operate on a three-year distributed model, meaning students will complete their first year of coursework on campus before moving into the veterinary community for residencies, internships and specialty placements.

Arkansas State has the largest headcount graduate school enrollment in the state, and this new offering "will be a big boost to enrollment," said Cherisse Jones-Branch, dean of Arkansas State's graduate school. It will also help Arkansas State attract more highly qualified faculty and researchers.


Arkansas State will be seeking approval from the ASU System board of trustees -- which could take action as soon as March -- and the Arkansas Division of Higher Education this year, said Len Frey, interim provost. Eventually, the school will need to be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Jennifer Bouldin, dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, has been working with Mickey Latour, dean of the College of Agriculture, to establish classrooms and labs for these students while more permanent facilities are established.

The veterinary college will "meet demand for a growing population, [and] I'm proud to be part of that movement," Latour said.

In addition to various approvals and accreditations, the university also needs to hire a founding dean for the college, so "we might be a little premature to speculate too directly on an opening date, but the fall of 2026 is a reasonable estimate if we are able to complete all our approvals," said Bill Smith, Arkansas State's chief communications officer.


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