Washington Watch: Recognizing those who care for our pets and animals

Veterinary technology students at Trident Technical College in South Carolina visit the LEARN Horse Rescue. (Photo: Trident Tech)

It’s National Veterinary Technician Week, which is a great opportunity to spotlight the work community colleges do in preparing students for this profession.

Pet and animal care is big business in the U.S., and training vet technicians is actually a good example of community colleges’ flexibility to serve the needs of business and industry.

In 2017-2018, two-thirds (68 percent) or about 85 million U.S. households reported having a pet, according to the National Pet Owners Survey. These households spent more than $17 billion in veterinary care alone in 2017.

So it isn’t surprising that the outlook for veterinary technicians and technologists is bright through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 102,000 vet techs in the workforce in 2016, and an additional 20,400 jobs are expected to be added, either through retirement or new openings by 202 — a 20 percent increase.

Becoming a vet tech

Becoming a veterinary technician or technologist is a two-step process. The first step is completing a postsecondary program. The vast majority of vet techs complete an associate degree, although there are also many sub-baccalaureate certificate programs. Two-thirds of the current vet tech workforce hold an associate degree, and another 11 percent postsecondary certificates.

Veterinary technicians also need to pass a credentialing exam. Depending on the state, that means becoming registered, licensed or certified.

The annual median pay for a vet tech in 2017 was $33,400, just shy of $35,000 used to define a “good” middle-skill job by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. However, pay varies by state. Vet techs in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York are among those with higher median earnings, with those in Connecticut above $43,000 and those in New York nearing that figure.

Breaking down demographics

Almost half (48 percent) of all the vet tech associate degrees were earned at community colleges in academic year 2016-17, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

Of the 18 vet tech programs in rural areas, 17 are community college programs. Community colleges also accounted for more than three-fourths (78 percent) of the programs in towns. This compares to 45 percent and 49 percent, respectively, of vet tech programs offered in postsecondary institutions in large cities or suburbs.

There are far more women in the vet tech field than men. Among community college vet tech programs, women outnumber men 15 to one, compared to 14 to one at all institutions.

Most vet tech graduates overall and at community colleges are white (76 and 80 percent, respectively), mainly because the colleges with these programs are in rural areas, which are largely white.

Community colleges also conferred more than half of all the vet tech associate degrees to American Indian or Native Alaska students and Asian students, but lower percentages to African-American and Hispanic/Latino students. The location of community colleges, again, may explain these findings.

Whatever your pet of choice, and whether your college offers a vet tech program, know that community colleges play an essential role in keeping them healthy – just as they help keep human beings vital as well.

Below, a promotional video for the veterinary assistant program
at Tidewater Community College in Virginia.

About the Author

David Baime
David Baime is senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.