Veterinary Debt Initiative Q&A:
Dumb Friends League Launches Innovative Student Loan Repayment Program to Hire and Retain Talent While Upholding Core Values
In the veterinary profession, there may be a perception that private practices have the advantage when it comes to potential veterinary team employees. Financial incentives such as practice partnership or ownership may be alluring, but does this mean the non-profit sector is by default, disadvantaged? The Dumb Friends League of Denver has proven this is certainly not the case. The Veterinary Debt Initiative (VDI) team sat down with Dumb Friends League President and CEO Dr. Apryl Steele and Director of Human Resources Rebecca Holmes to learn about their robust list of benefits, including the new student loan repayment program— demonstrating to be a win for current and prospective veterinary team members, staff morale, and a game-changing strategy for tackling the educational debt problem in veterinary medicine.
Let’s set the stage for what was happening at the Dumb Friends League when you started to explore implementing a student loan repayment program.
Our hiring in Veterinary Services has more than doubled in the past year, and a strong economy, low unemployment and competitive job market had made keeping up with the staffing needs of the organization challenging. We were expanding our scope and we took on the underserved veterinary hospital that used to be PetAid Colorado. It had the potential to serve many more people. But we needed to hire more veterinarians to do that. We were struggling to find potential employees for those roles, and we had a couple of distinct roles that we'd been looking to fill. We were brainstorming different ways to attract and retain talented people. We looked at what we were paying employees, and our wages were very competitive on both a local and national level. We offer a 401K plan and vacation time. We have reasonable hours and no after hours on-call. We were looking at all these things that would help veterinarians decide that the Dumb Friends League is where they wanted to spend their career. In exploring options for addressing our challenges in veterinarian and certified veterinary technician staffing, a common theme among current staff and potential candidates was the burden of their student loans and the significant influence it had on their employment decisions. This feedback led to our exploration of a student loan repayment program, a benefit that is growing in popularity with larger employers especially those requiring specialized and/or advanced degrees as a condition of employment. I attended the Banfield Pet Summit about two years ago, and they mentioned they were exploring student loan repayment programs. That's when I asked Rebecca Holmes to research this area.
What were you hearing from veterinarians about the challenges they were facing when it came to educational debt and working in the non-profit sector?
I think many veterinarians and technicians really do want to work in the non-profit sector, but there’s a misperception the jobs don’t pay well, there aren’t any benefits, and they can't afford to take a job in this field because of their debt. But that's not the reality at all, and it’s definitely not the reality in our organization. So there's a reputation we are fighting against, which is this misguided assumption. Veterinarians would say to me, “I've always wanted to work in non-profit, but I've never pursued it because of this fear" or “I know I won't be able to make a good living.”
Learn more, Q & A continued
VETERINARY DEBT INITIATIVE ROUNDUP
August 15, 2019
Led by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the Veterinary Medical Association Executives, the Veterinary Debt Initiative (VDI) is focused on helping veterinarians thrive in financially sustainable and rewarding careers. The VDI’s primary purpose is to raise awareness and provide access to resources that enable pre-veterinary students, veterinary students and veterinarians to make highly informed financial decisions. We want to bring your attention to these important resources and happenings:
The Veterinary Debt Initiative (VDI) released its new educational resource at the 2019 AVMA Convention in Washington, D.C., August 2-6. What’s The Story Behind Tuition is the latest resource from VDI to help answer student questions about veterinary college tuition. Convention attendees were also briefed on VDI’s progress during several continuing education sessions and the AVMA Past Presidents Breakfast. VDI is led by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the Veterinary Medical Association Executives and is focused on helping veterinarians thrive in financially sustainable and rewarding careers.
The 2019 AVMA Convention in Washington, D.C., August 2-6 offered several continuing education sessions related to educational debt. The Veterinary Debt Initiative sponsored three sessions:
- Decisions, Decisions: Repayment Strategies for New Veterinarians
- Contract Negotiations: Beyond Bargaining Games and Tactics
- The Market for Veterinary Education and How It Affects You!
Here’s what Inside Higher Ed
reporter Andrew Kreighbaum recently wrote about the current administration’s reduction of student loan servicer oversight: “After the Trump administration dialed back oversight of student loan servicers, states have responded to demands from consumer groups by passing new laws targeting companies that handle millions of borrowers' payments.“ Kreighbaum added, “Lawmakers in a growing number of states have sought to tackle student debt as a consumer protection problem. Over the first half of 2019, legislatures have enacted a flurry of bills taking aim at the companies that process and handle payments on the roughly $1.5 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt.” The story also noted that “New state regulations are testing arguments by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration that only the federal government, and not the states, has the authority to police loan servicers. Recent court rulings, though, appear to have only strengthened the hand of states seeking to wield more oversight powers. Seven states so far this year have passed laws requiring loan servicers to meet consumer protection requirements.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is moving to the Kansas City region. This means that the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and the Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP), administered by NIFA, will also be moving out of Washington, D.C. Like 75% of NIFA’s workforce, Dr. Michelle Colby who leads VMLRP and VSGP, will not be relocating.
Veterinary Debt Initiative co-lead organizations the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) recently sent a letter to NIFA Director Scott Angle outlining concerns over the management of the VMLRP and VSGP, including the record-keeping and timeliness of the awards and grants distribution. The AVMA and AAVMC partner with the Veterinary Medical Association Executives to lead the Veterinary Debt Initiative.
- USDA’s inspector general recently released a report on the relocation of Economic Research Service (ERS) and NIFA from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City. But with lawmakers out of town for the long August recess and the relocation already underway, it's unclear whether the findings will have any impact. The report found that USDA officials have the legal authority to carry out the relocation but not necessarily the budget authority to do so. The report also failed to answer significant questions about the motivation behind the move.
- ERS and NIFA researchers may request to telework from Washington, D.C through the end of the year. Requests will be considered on an individual, case-by-case basis. Also, employees who rejected relocation will now have until the end of September to change their minds. Employees in difficult to fill positions will be given bonuses if they agree to relocate. The bonuses will be equivalent to one month’s salary.
The July 15 issue of the Congressional Research Service In Focus
explores income share agreements as an alternative to student loans for financing higher education expenses. The report provides “an overview of ISAs along with a comparison to student loans. Because no federal ISA program currently exists and the majority of student loan debt is associated with the federal student loan program, the overview and comparison primarily focuses on private ISAs and federal student loans but generalizes some parts of the discussion to highlight particular features of each financing approach.” Questions that Congress may want to consider along with potential policy issues are also presented in the report.
New research sponsored by the Teachers Insurance Annuity Association (TIAA) and conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab showed that student loans impact many aspects of borrowers’ lives. TIAA reports: “The year-long study, which explores the intersection of student loan debt, longevity planning and family dynamics, shows that life stage — and who the loans are being taken out for — plays a key role in the balancing act of paying off student debt and saving for retirement.” The research found dealing with student loans can be very stressful, particularly as balances increase. “And it’s not just students who are carrying those balances, as parents and grandparents are helping to shoulder the load. Not surprisingly, 84 percent of borrowers say that student loans take a toll on their ability to save for retirement, and 73 percent of borrowers stay they’re stalling on increasing or maximizing retirement savings till their loans are paid off. And 26 percent aren’t saving for retirement at all, pointing to student loans as the culprit.”
New survey results
from studentloanplanner.com found that marriages and life aspirations are impacted by student debt. BenefitsPro reporter Marlene Satter provided commentary on the survey in “Student loans put the kibosh on kids
”.** “There are plenty of life plans that fall by the wayside for people carrying a big load of student loan debt, and having children is just one of them.” The survey found that “not only did 51 percent of student loan borrowers say those loans have affected their plans for having kids, a third of those with high balances say they put such plans on hold because of student loan debt.” Satter also detailed other negative effects that student loans have on borrowers: “A quarter say they’ve delayed getting married because of [student loans], 57 percent say those loans are a major stress factor in their relationship with their significant other and 20 percent say they’d consider a strategic divorce if they thought it would lower their student loan payments.” However, the article noted a bright side to the survey: “Some respondents…said being open about the amount of debt and payoff prospects has actually brought them closer together with their significant other, especially when both have loans and they decide to pool their resources to tackle the problem as a team.”
Veterinary Debt Initiative co-lead organizations the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) are integral parts of “The Coalition to Preserve PSLF*.” The coalition continues to push Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to address the PSLF’s administrative problems. Specifically, the coalition sent a letter to remind the secretary she has the authority to waive requirements that borrowers be employed at a public service job when they apply for and receive PSLF even if they have fulfilled the requirements. The AVMA and AAVMC work closely with the Veterinary Medical Association Executives to lead the Veterinary Debt Initiative.
*Public Service Loan Forgiveness program
- A letter submitted by 16 senators in April urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to take additional steps to fix/bolster/safeguard the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). The fixes could help thousands of eligible borrowers receive loan forgiveness. The House-passed version of the FY 2020 appropriations bill includes these fixes plus an additional $350 million to implement the program, the same amount as provided in the previous two fiscal years. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up its version of the bill next month.
- For more information about PSLF, visit AVMA’s PSLF webpage.
- If you or someone you know was denied from PSLF because you were not in the correct repayment plan, you may be eligible to receive funds under a TEPSLF program. Learn more at studentaid.ed.gov.
- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) wants to hear from veterinarians who would be impacted by cuts to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Share your story here.
EVERFI, with sponsorship by AIG, surveyed over 30,000 college students about their financial knowledge, experience, behaviors and perspectives. The report, “2019 Money Matters on Campus,” stated that “These adults are suffering from a lack of financial capability long before they enter the workforce and employers will need to be aware of how these attitudes and behaviors may impact their job performance.”
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and many others in the higher education community recently sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to support funding for student aid programs for graduate and professional students as it works toward reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA). The groups wrote “decisions made by Congress in the past relative to student loans have made graduate and professional education more expensive for students, such as charging them higher interest rates on loans, and eliminating the in-school interest subsidy for graduate students.” The groups also urged Congress to continue funding the Grad PLUS Loan program. AAVMC partners with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Veterinary Medical Association Executives to lead the Veterinary Debt Initiative.
Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit,” which found student loans outpacing other household debt among most severely delinquent loans. Here’s commentary from Inside Higher Ed on the report: “A new report shows student loans outpacing other household debt among most severely delinquent loans…Defaulted student loans have surpassed all other types of household debt classified as "severely derogatory," including mortgage and credit card debt.” The article added, “Fed researchers defined severely derogatory debt as any kind of delinquent loan combined with a repossession, foreclosure, or charge off. The proportion of debt falling into that category in U.S. households has stayed fairly consistent for the past four years. But defaulted student loans now make up 35 percent of that debt.”
Global research firm 13D Research examined rising college tuition costs in “Why has the cost of college in the U.S. skyrocketed?” The article discussed the implications of high tuition costs from a personal level to a macroeconomic level.
The Veterinary Debt Initiative (VDI) is committed to raising awareness and providing access to resources that enable pre-veterinary students, veterinary students and veterinarians to make highly informed financial decisions. Check out how VDI is leading efforts in the student debt crisis at these upcoming VDI-sponsored speaker events:
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- AVMA Annual Economic Summit
10/22/19: Veterinary Debt Initiative Update
- Wellbeing Summit
11/19/19: The Collaborative Approach to the Veterinary Debt Initiative
- Veterinary Leadership Conference
1/9-1/12/20: time and location TBD