February 13, 2012

Veterinary College Plans $22 Million Expansion

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The College of Veterinary Medicine will begin renovations in summer 2013 to accommodate its plans to increase the size of its graduating class sizes from 102 to 120 students by 2016 or 2017. The $22 million expansion will be paid by New York State through its 2008-2013 Capital Improvement Program.

The $22 million was originally designated by the state to the renovation of the veterinary research tower, according to Paul Streeter, assistant dean for finance and administration. However, Streeter said the veterinary school’s first priority is to increase its class size, and the grant was not large enough to cover renovations of the research tower. The University has since decided to reallocate the funds to the class size expansion, Streeter said.

Streeter said that if the vet school hopes to accept more students in the future, it will need to expand its physical space on campus.

“We are currently short on lecture halls,” Streeter said. “We have 102 students in the newest class but that is our maximum and in order to sustain this number we need to add space and renovate existing classrooms.”

Katherine Edmondson, assistant dean for learning and instruction, said the expansion will occur in two phases.

The first phase will focus largely on the construction of two, 150-seat classrooms and an atrium, which the school hopes will encourage interaction between students and faculty and serve as a space for presentations. The second phase will involve the renovation of existing parts of the vet school, including teaching labs, tutorial rooms and student locker space, Edmondson said.

According to Edmondson, increased enrollment is necessary for Cornell to maintain its prestige as one of the top-ranked veterinary schools in the country.

“There is … long-term workforce need, particularly in rural veterinary medicine, and this expansion will allow us to better support New York State’s animal health industry,” Edmondson said in an email.

Some veterinary professionals, however, say that by increasing class sizes, schools across the country risk flooding an already saturated profession.

Paul Pion, co-founder of the Veterinary Information Network, an online news service that also provides continuing education service for veterinarians, said that while veterinarians are in high demand in rural areas, it is difficult to attract students to the field of large animal care.

In order to meet the demand for veterinarians in this area, the vet school hopes to increase enrollment in its large animal program from 20 to 30 students per year — 10 of the 18 proposed new class spots — according to Inside Higher Ed.

“There is more of an imbalance in distribution than a shortage,” Pion said. “Servicing rural areas is difficult for veterinarians because many of these areas can’t support a veterinary practice.”

He added that by increasing class sizes, schools decrease the value of a veterinary degree.

“If you keep pouring pie batter into the one slice of pie that has room, it will overflow into the parts of the pie tin that are already filled and spill over,” Pion said. “From a purely financial sense we need to stop increasing the supply of colleagues while working to increase the market for veterinary services.”

In addition, some students in the vet school also said that they are wary of a potential reduction in the intimacy of lab and clinical settings. Vet school education relies largely on interactions between students and mentors, according to Nicole Finazzo grad.

“If the class size increases without a proportional increase in vet professors, the change in the student-to-mentor ratio could easily be detrimental to learning,” Finazzo said in an email.

Yet, Prof. Lorin Warnick, associate dean for veterinary education, disagreed with Finazzo, emphasizing that although the vet school had not yet finalized the number of new staff positions, larger class sizes would not undermine the learning experience.

“Faculty positions will be filled with the goal of preserving the teaching approaches that are successful now and valued by our students,” Warnick said in an email.

According to Warnick, the expansion will increase the amount of available space and help control tuition costs.

“Expanding the class size will allow us to make more efficient use of resources … which supports our goal of better preparing students for clinical practice,” Warnick said.

However, Finazzo said veterinary students may not be so easily convinced.

“As it is, patient visits at the Cornell animal hospitals have been decreasing in the last few years due to our economic situation,” Finazzo said. “By adding more students to an already declining case load, we may be significantly limiting each student’s opportunity to gain vital hands-on veterinary experience.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker