2014 AVMA Veterinary Economics Summit

EconIcon.pngI attended this past Tuesday.

Three things stood out:

1. The Summit was incomplete and incompetent- which is absolutely appropriate.  

2. Karl Wise called for disruptive conversation in the interest of innovation and transformational change.  

3. Mike Dicks excluded non resident students in calculating the price of a degree. 

My commentary, in order, ending with a fix for Mike's omission:


1. The Summit was incomplete and incompetent- which is absolutely appropriate.
  

If anyone feels otherwise, the problem is unrealistic expectations as much as inadequate performance. Look, Mike is trying to do something that's never been done before- apply economic principles to the management of the entire veterinary profession.  He came on the job a year and a half ago, inheriting a massive effort already underway that he had no hand in designing, and is working for an organization that is rapidly and radically changing its very culture.  

Change is messy.  Change is strenuous, inefficient and inconsistent. While the meeting had a lot less value because there were no notes, no material was distributed ahead of the meeting and no follow up is planned for months after... I do applaud Mike and the Econ Division for refusing to put information out there that they know is inaccurate and easily misinterpreted.  

Not that long ago AVMA would have ignored the entire issue, stonewalled our objections or defended the Summit while denying its flaws.  Now?  Now they're giving us a guy willing to stand up and put on a conference with overwhelming data, incomplete analysis and a straight jacket of a format that showed little consideration for basic physiological needs, much less known best practices for knowledge acquisition and retention. How can we retain multiple, novel, complex interpretations of unfamiliar concepts based on unidentified datasets we haven't seen... when we're offered minimal and deferred chance to offer questions to presenters, process with other attendees, consult background material or just disconnect and let our brains take a breather?

Overall it was genuinely lousy but IT WAS GENUINE.

 

 2. Karl Wise called for disruptive conversation in the interest of innovation and transformational change.  


I was stunned. Had Karl been able to say any of that during his tenure at AVMA, I would have worshipped him as a god.  Do I agree with everything he called for?  No, although I do agree with some of it.

I think he is right about the need to develop a spectrum of degrees, including a lower level, cheaper, faster husbandry based "parapractitioner". Over half the problems we see in companion animal practice are due to inadequate husbandry- too much food, not enough exercise, no dental care, the wrong socialization and training.

But mostly I think Karl is right that INNOVATION IS DISRUPTIVE AND NECESSARY.  

3.  Mike Dicks excluded non resident students in calculating the price of a degree.  

Notwithstanding item 1, this is unacceptable- especially from the man who wants to position AVMA as the leading source for economic information about the entire veterinary profession.  In constructing this key metric, the demand curve for veterinary degrees, Mike included non resident seats in the supply, and included debt incurred by non resident students in the cost... but based the price solely on resident tuition. 

This is as intellectually dishonest as AAVMC including interns when calculating employment rates, but excluding them when calculating starting salaries. It is as disingenuous as claiming overseas schools are raping students with high tuitions... when many of the FORTY TWO PERCENT of the 2014 US DVM entering class admitted as nonresidents are paying as much or more at US schools. That's up from 34% admitted non resident two years ago, by the way.

If Mike offered an explanation immediately following the presentation I missed it because I was still so furious he'd done it in the first place.  During the QnA after presentations, he stated that it was because the Econ Division wasn't able to count how many students paid non resident tuition- plus some schools muddy the waters by allowing students to reclassify from resident to nonresident after the first year.  This simply makes no sense to me.  It's basic math and web surfing.  You go to the school's website, it tells you how many were admitted, how many were resident and how many nonresident, and whether or not the school allows reclassification of residency for tuition purposes. 

I know I'm no economist, so I figured I might be lacking some basic economist knowledge that made it make sense.  I checked with the two economists I knew were there: Malcolm Getz of Vanderbilt and Maureen Kilkenny of the Center for Food and Ag Policy.  Both said it made no sense to them either.  When I talked to Mike one on one after the Summit concluded, and showed him how I counted nonresident students and accounted for reclassifying, he said he hadn't gotten his point across.  He hadn't counted non residents because he couldn't determine what non resident students actually paid after grants and scholarships and non loan aid.  This is called a school's net price.

But you know what?  Mike can't calculate a net price for any students regardless of which tuition rate they are being charged, so that's no reason to exclude the students being charged non resident rates.  I think there just wasn't time.  Given all important economist stuff the Econ Division was trying to do up to the Summit, I think it just didn't seem worth spending the time thinking about how to count the non residents.

 So... here's a spreadsheet counting nonresidents.  

It shows how many were admitted to each school in 2014 resident and non resident (with a breakdown of resident students by contract where applicable and available); the rate each was charged; and the non resident contribution to total tuition vs consumption of total seats for each school and across all schools.  The schools that reclassify are noted.  Note that these are just the rates schools charge; this isn't what students actually pay- Mike's net price.  

Mike commented several times through the day that while he knew where his data came from, others' data wasn't trustworthy because there was no way to tell where it came from.  This is insulting coming from a guy who provided no actual data, only interpretations; who included no labeling on slides indicating what dataset the conclusions were drawn from; and who claims the data he is working with is proprietary so it can't be released for us to assess the validity of the conclusions for ourselves.

Damn straight that data is proprietary, Mike.  It belongs to the clients and practitioners who generate it.  If you want us to keep sharing it, as you and Paul LaPorte of the BLS exhorted us several times during the Summit, you better get AVMA on the transparency bandwagon. The model practice says we should not use any compound the ingredients of which we do not know. Maybe we need to add a clause about not using any economic conclusion we haven't seen the data for?

To support Mike in his expressed opinion that data sets should be fully described, every cell in my spreadsheet is a hyperlink to the page where the value in that cell came from- the exception are the Canadian tuitions which hold the link in the school name in the first column.  A handful of schools don't provide residency breakdowns in the material they make publicly available, so I provided the name and email of the school administration official who provided the residency data,  and the date of their email to me containing that information. Some schools only had last year's numbers available, or the AAVMC or AVMA source if that was all I could find.  One would think if the AVMA Economics Division chief called those schools, they would provide current info....

As I noted before, this is pretty simple stuff.  I hope it frees up the three PhD economists the AVMA now has on payroll to do important economist things.

Like lead the AVMA forward through change.

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