CORVALLIS - Reflecting continued improvements in its educational, research and statewide service programs, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University has gained full accreditation for three more years.

This recognition - which is a key to the college's operation - was made by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Beyond that, the college is filling faculty positions, acquiring new equipment, implementing a new departmental structure, seeking to stabilize the source of its state funding, and considering an expansion of student educational programs at OSU.

These positive trends are a departure, officials say, from the early 1990s when the college was caught up in a statewide budget crisis, placed on limited accreditation and targeted for closure at one point.

"The awarding of full accreditation by our peers is recognition of the excellence of our programs, and it doesn't come easy," said Robert Wilson, dean of the college. "The Council on Education did recommend that we increase the research productivity of our faculty, a process already under way."

The insecurity and uncertainty of recent years, Wilson said, is now being replaced by many substantive improvements. They include:

- Animal care case loads are increasing in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory continues to serve as the state's first line of defense against animal disease epidemics.

- New diagnostic equipment has been obtained, such as improved ultrasound technology donated by the Arabian Horse Association, and "nuclear scintigraphy" equipment used to diagnose lameness.

- New faculty have been recruited for clinical pathology, large animal surgery and anatomy.

- The number of rural veterinary clinicians who travel around the Corvallis area to serve the public while educating students is being increased.

- This spring the college hopes to have its budget moved back into the general higher education budget.

- A new college structure will create separate departments for biomedical sciences and large animal clinical sciences, improving administrative efficiency and faculty productivity.

But by far the biggest change under consideration, Wilson said, is the potential move of the second and third years of the veterinary educational program to Corvallis.

Since its inception, OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine has contracted with Washington State University to provide part of the student training.

"This approach allowed our students to receive a solid education," Wilson said. "But there are numerous advantages, for our students, faculty and our services to the state of Oregon, to have all veterinary education done right here at OSU."

A recent financial study concluded that almost $2 million could be used to support small animal medical education in Corvallis, Wilson said. The total is a combination of student tuition and funds now paid to Washington State.

A more detailed feasibility study on this concept will begin immediately, he said, and recommendations may be ready for university officials to consider as early as this summer.

It might be necessary to add faculty and staff, and remodel some existing facilities, but college officials have no current plans for construction of a new small animal hospital facility. Instead, some innovative new approaches to student education using existing private veterinary clinics would be considered.

The demand for students educated at OSU or other veterinary programs around the U.S. appears to be strong, educators say.

"A few years ago some people said by now there would be a surplus of doctors in veterinary medicine," Wilson said. "That surplus has not materialized and, in fact, several private practitioners have expressed concern about finding associates for their practice."

Last year, OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine averaged about 11 job announcements per graduating student. Many rural areas of the state are especially anxious to get more veterinary doctors, Wilson said, and opportunities in urban practices are also strong.

Each year the college accepts 36 new students to pursue study in veterinary science, with 28 of those slots reserved for Oregonians. There recently have been more than 800 applicants for the remaining eight spots.

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Robert Wilson, 541-737-2098