The University of Arizona has received the green light from the American Veterinary Medical Association to open its long-awaited College of Veterinary Medicine in Oro Valley.
On the UA’s third attempt for accreditation, the AVMA Council on Wednesday sent the school a letter of reasonable assurance, which allows the UA to begin enrolling students in the state’s first public veterinary medicine college.
The university will be eligible for a provisional accreditation once the first class of students is enrolled, and for a full accreditation once they graduate. The first class is expected to enroll in fall 2020 and graduate in 2023.
“We’re really ecstatic to be at this milestone,” College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Julie Funk told the Star on Thursday. “We’re so excited about the future of this college and the benefits it will bring to the state of Arizona.”
The accreditation decision comes four years after former UA president Ann Weaver Hart announced plans to open the college in the university-owned Hanley Building near North Oracle Road and North First Avenue. State lawmakers approved $8 million to retrofit the site.
While Midwestern University, a private college in Glendale, has a similar program, UA’s veterinary medicine program marks the first public veterinary school in the state.
Unlike most programs, the UA concept calls for training veterinarians in three years instead of four by having them attend school year-round instead of taking summers off. It also calls for much of the training to occur at non-UA locations such as the Reid Park Zoo.
Funk added that the program will help fill a need for qualified veterinarians around the country, but especially in the rural areas of Arizona. The state has four regions that are designated as having a veterinary shortage, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We believe that people that learn in Arizona will stay in Arizona,” she said.
The campus also marks a big coup for Oro Valley, as Mayor Joe Winfield lauded the Wednesday decision as a way to promote Oro Valley.
“Many people have labored diligently for several years to make this a reality. The Town of Oro Valley continues to be a great place to live, work, play and innovate,” Winfield said in a statement.
UA president Robert C. Robbins said the letter of assurance “paves the way” for the university “to become a leader in veterinary medical education.”
Initial attempts to open the school were quashed when the AVMA denied accreditation in July 2016. The council cited five areas of deficiency, including lack of proof of the veterinary school’s long-term financial viability, inadequate staffing and recruiting plans, lack of a high-quality research program and unanswered questions around student access to learning opportunities.
The UA spent $10,000 to appeal the decision, but it was rejected. However, the accreditor reconsidered its initial finding that UA lacked a high-quality veterinary research program. That meant UA met 7 of the 11 quality standards for accreditation.
The denial of the appeal prompted former state lawmaker Bruce Wheeler, a Tucson democrat who supported the $8 million contribution, to say he was “flabbergasted” the UA didn’t have a better grasp of its eligibility for accreditation before seeking public funds. “This is another black eye for the University of Arizona,” Wheeler said at the time.
The school submitted a new application in 2018. Changes to the proposal included the $4.4 million purchase of a 3-acre plot adjacent to the Hanley Building to use for office space for faculty and staff, and student services spaces, including study areas, a wellness center and a lounge.
That purchase — referred to as “critical” to meet accreditation standards — was one of the items that helped push the UA’s application over the top.
“The council determined that the college’s plan, if followed, has the potential to meet the standards for accreditation,” Spencer A. Johnston, chair of the AVMA’s Council on Education, wrote in the letter, obtained by the Star.
The process for UA to obtain full accreditation includes another site visit, expected in fall 2021. The school is also required to provide biannual reports to the council and can’t make changes to the original approved plan.
Funk added that while the headquarters are in Oro Valley, students will also use some space on the health science campus and the campus agricultural center. But they’ll purposely plan all of the students’ classes on one site a day.
Applications are not open yet and more information is available online at vetmed.arizona.edu.
In the meantime, Funk, who has been working with other faculty and staff in Oro Valley, said it’s going to be nice to have other people along with them in the Hanley Building.
“We can’t wait to have students here,” she said.