Animal care coming to VCC with new vet tech programs

by Tom Coombe -

Tax funding generated from mining operations will be used to give Vermilion Community College a boost as it gets a new program off the ground.
Earlier this week, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board awarded $450,000 to VCC for its veterinary technician program, which will be launched next fall with at least a dozen students.
“It’s funding that we can use over the first two years of the program to help the college get the first two years started up,” said Shawn Bina, provost at VCC. “The hope is by year three, the college can stand on its feet.”
Two new faculty members are on board, including local veterinarian Peter Hughes, and Vermilion is set to remodel space in its natural science wing and order more than $150,000 in new equipment.
It’s all part of an effort to boost enrollment at Vermilion through addition of a two-and-a-half year program that will provide graduates an associate of applied science degree, and a leg up to work in the animal care industry.
The program has come about after years of exploration.
“The vet tech idea was out there before I became provost,” said Bina, who took over the school’s top on-campus administrative role in 2010. “My first year I put a stop to it because we couldn’t make it work at the time. We couldn’t afford it and without a veterinarian able to jump on board it made it very difficult.”
But last year, “a lot of things lined up,” Bina said, including the availability of Hughes, a longtime local vet with the Ely Veterinary Clinic.
“Peter Hughes and I had some discussions and it seemed like a good time to reenergize an idea that had been around for awhile.”
Hughes and Jessica Kainz, a certified veterinary technician, were both hired as full-time faculty members at VCC and the school looked to ignite the program in the 2017-18 school year with at least 12 students.
“The business model in the first year is to have 12 students,” said Bina. “We currently have 12 and we think we’ll exceed that as recruiting is not complete yet. We feel very good about that.”’
Enrollment in the program will eventually be capped at 24 new students per year, and the funding from the IRRRB will help to bridge revenue gaps as the program moves beyond its infancy.
“Part of what happened is we hired two new faculty positions, and we have to have them both on board to start the program,” said Bina. “And it will be two years before we’re fully loaded with cohorts of students.”
The funds will also cover remodeling as VCC develops a state-of-the-art surgery laboratory as well as a teaching laboratory, and six other laboratory spaces as well as a kennel room.
Plans call for dogs and cats to be housed at VCC during the academic year as program participants care for the animals.
“That’s also why we’re (building lab space) downstairs as we have to worry about soundproofing,” said Bina.
Vermilion will work with regional shelters to provide care for animals, including spay and neutering services.
The school is also working to get the program nationally accredited, likely by the spring of 2019.