Online Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program Continues to Grow

Friday, April 5, 2024

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As one of the oldest online programs offered by Purdue – and currently the one with the largest enrollment – the Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning program, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, is undergoing an impressive rejuvenation. Several factors are driving the VNDL program’s growth, from demand for educated veterinary technicians to a revamped battery of courses.

Carolyn Gauslow had been working in veterinary clinics for years when she decided that she really wanted to earn her veterinary technician’s certification, something her employer, Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Crystal Lake, Illinois, encouraged.

Gauslow has a full-time job overnights in the clinic’s intensive care unit, a husband and a son, plus two cats and a dog. She needed a program she could fit into a busy life. A veterinarian she works with pointed her to the longstanding Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning (VNDL) program from the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. She researched the program and decided it was for her.

“I wanted to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible but also be able to learn and grow as a veterinary professional,” Gauslow said. “Purdue really did that above and beyond. It was probably the best decision I could have made.”

Having just reached its 25th anniversary this year, the VNDL program, now among the oldest online programs offered by Purdue – and currently the one with the largest enrollment – is experiencing an impressive rejuvenation.

The program’s target for growth is 10% annually, but lately it has been seeing increases nearer 12%, and from spring semester 2023 to spring semester 2024, enrollment jumped 38%, from 452 to 624 students, said Josh Clark, MS, RVT, the VNDL program’s assistant director. A decade ago, enrollment had fallen to around 100 students some semesters.

Likewise, retention of existing students has improved, nearly doubling from spring 2023 to spring 2024.

Clark said numerous factors are influencing the growth. One is that educated veterinary nursing professionals are in short supply. Demand for veterinary technicians is projected to grow by 21% through 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, there are just 10 fully online programs in the field across the country, and in 2023 Purdue was rated the top online program nationally by Graduates of Purdue’s VNDL program have a 92.9% three-year average pass rate on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE®), the profession’s standard certification examination, compared with a 68.7% three-year average nationally.

Clark said it helps that instructors in the VNDL program are focused solely on online learning.

“All of our instructors are dedicated to teaching VNDL courses,” Clark said. “We don’t have folks on our team who are teaching some on-campus courses and some online courses. I think that helps our instructors be better teachers. They’re passionate about online learning and they do a good job of it.”

He said a beefed up marketing program, particularly on social media, and expanded partnerships with large veterinary practices and organizations such as Ethos/VetBloom and United Veterinary Care, as well as Huntington University, are additional factors in the growth of the VNDL program. In the partnership with Huntington University, students at Huntington can earn two degrees at once, a bachelor’s in animal health from Huntington University and their VDNL degree from Purdue.

Clark thinks the program also has benefitted from a “pandemic effect.” Students during the COVID-19 pandemic got used to online learning, found that it worked for them and, in some cases, that they preferred it.

“We started seeing pretty good growth after the pandemic,” Clark said. “It’s anecdotal but, talking with students, online learning became a lot more mainstream after the pandemic.”

That has resulted, among other things, in an uptick of students eschewing the on-campus program and enrolling in Purdue’s online program after high school, which was rare previously, and a few students have even switched to online after starting on campus, which never happened before. Older adults going back to school for their certification or making a career change still make up the majority of the VNDL program’s students.

Ryker Parsell of Lafayette, who’s in his fifth semester in the VNDL program, chose the fully online option even though he is on campus most days. He works at Purdue’s Centrally Managed Animal Facilities.

Parsell, who also has worked at local animal shelters and clinics, felt that he needed to continue his education if, as planned, he’s going to make a long-term career of working with animals.

“I couldn’t really have a work schedule and an on-campus class schedule,” Parsell said. “It was beneficial to be able to have a program where I could do it on my own time and have my own schedule and still be able to work whatever hours I needed to work.”

Despite the growth trend, College of Veterinary Medicine leaders aren’t satisfied with the status quo. The VNDL program is amid a major, multiyear makeover with assistance from the Course Production team of Purdue Teaching and Learning Technologies and Purdue University Online. By the spring of 2025, all 27 of the program’s didactic courses will have been redesigned and Clark said the plan going forward is to evaluate the courses for refreshing at least annually.

So far, students like what they see. Clark pointed to feedback from a group of students who took the old version of the Physiology 1 class one semester and the new version of the Physiology 2 class the following semester.

“All of the feedback we got from those students was very positive, he said. “The difference between the two courses was night and day. They very much liked the redesigned course.”

Gauslow, who graduated in May of 2023, has become an advocate of the VNDL program because of her experience.

“My advisors were absolutely fantastic and all of the instructors for every single course were so hands-on,” Gauslow said. “They were just as invested in my education as I was. It is such an incredible program.”

For more information about Purdue’s Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning program, visit the program’s website.

Writer(s): Greg Kline |

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