Missouri colleges develop new program to expand opportunities for veterinary technicians

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, the United States has faced shortages of all kinds from toilet paper to face masks to food to lumber. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the need for veterinary care—which was partly increased due to the number of pet adoptions during the lock downs—has significantly risen. This has left the veterinary industry struggling to meet the need for more veterinary technicians to provide care for pets and livestock.

In response to the demand, the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, has joined Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri, and created a new transfer agreement for veterinary technology students. The “two plus two” agreement is the first program of its kind at a college of veterinary medicine and permits undergraduate students who earn a two-year associate’s in veterinary technology at Jeffco to be automatically admitted as juniors in the bachelors in veterinary technology degree program at MU. Additionally, the program allows Jeffco associates in veterinary technology graduates dating back to 1978 to utilize the articulation agreement.

“Veterinary technology education is mostly based off of associate level programs and that’s what a typical registered veterinary technician will have as far as education level,” said Cindy Cravens, director of the Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology program at MU.

She said over the past few years it has come to MU’s attention that veterinary technicians are interested in potentially moving on and getting either bachelor’s or master’s degrees, but they want the degrees to be in veterinary technology.

“That can be hard to find, especially if they want to stay at their current place of employment and not have to move to take in-person classes,” Cravens explained. “Mizzou started talking about trying to develop a bachelor’s level program a couple years ago. I was brought on two years ago to start the process of getting approval through the university system and it took about 18 months to get that accomplished and we got the program approval in June of 2021.”

Cravens said one of the main challenges for veterinary technicians who do want to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree is their associate’s in veterinary technology usually does not transfer. MU decided to design this new program to overcome this transfer issue and allow students to apply those veterinary technology credits so they count towards their bachelor’s.

“That’s why we needed to develop these articulation agreements with different associate level programs like Jefferson College,” she said. “So when they come here they really just have to finish up a few general education courses and the 40 credits that are specific to the BSVT program and can graduate with the bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology.”

Chris DeGeare, vice president of instruction at Jefferson College, said the program’s associate of science degree in veterinary technology has been highly successful for decades, but this articulation agreement with Mizzou allows their students to expand their horizons and make themselves more valuable to employers.

“As the industry continues to evolve and there are additional skills that can be learned, this bachelor’s program is a good next step,” DeGeare said. “Once it became available, that’s when we started our dialogue with the University of Missouri system to create this pathway for our graduates.”

New opportunities for vet techs

Cravens said there are several reasons why veterinary technicians are interested in the BSVT program, such as wanting to improve proficiencies at the job they are already at, move into leadership positions or to transition into other areas of industry or veterinary medicine, like research.

“So far, of the students that are in the program, most of them are just wanting to widen their knowledge base and improve proficiencies to stay at the job they are currently at,” she explained.

DeGeare agreed.

“This is what we call a career ladder or stackable credentials, where students can come out of our program and gain entry-level employment as veterinary technicians, but then by continuing in earning a bachelor’s degree that stacks on top of their associates, it gives them opportunities for upward mobility,” he said.

Since few veterinary technicians have bachelor’s and very few surveys have been conducted to obtain data in the area, it is unknown how salaries will be affected by this new degree program. Cravens said as the program grows and produces more graduates, data will be created and graduates will have a better idea of the compensation they can expect after completing the degree.

“In a 2016 NAFTA survey, showed that lower salaries was a reason that veterinary technicians weren’t staying in the profession and also lack of utilization from veterinarians,” Cravens said. “On top of what we’re trying to build in this program, we’re also reaching out to different veterinarians to tell them about our program and also encourage them to really try to utilize their technicians to the full capability of their degree.”

In addition to the partnership with MU, DeGeare said Jeffco is currently expanding their veterinary technician program because there is not only a demand from the employers, but also from students.

“With a number of regional vet schools having closed, there’s been some proprietary schools that have closed, that’s really created an additional need for the training, so while we were previously enrolling 24 and then up to 36, we’re looking to get 48 students per year to come in and go through this program,” he said. “So we’ve invested in updating our barn facilities, expanding our kennels, increasing the size of our classrooms and adding new technologies and we’re working in the near future toward developing a full clinic.”

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It’s easy to overlook the value of something when there is a surplus, but when the supply is threatened it is easy to recognize the value, whether it’s toilet paper or veterinary technicians. Programs like the BSVT, demonstrate an appreciation and willingness to invest in veterinary medicine and the people who devote their careers to animal health, and it is only expected to grow in the future.

“I’ve been pleased to hear that most of the students in our program have been getting some employer assistance on their tuition, which has been very encouraging to hear because that shows that the veterinarians are really seeing value in their technicians getting advanced education,” Cravens said. “The university is really excited about this program and making a pathway to get credits transferred that vet techs haven’t had in the past.”

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].