Presbyterian College rising junior Eric Terry knew he wanted to be a veterinarian – he just didn’t know where he would make that happen.
Terry, a Greenwood native, at least now has an option a little closer to home thanks to a recent decision by the Clemson University Board of Trustees that will open the state’s first college of veterinary medicine.
For Terry and other students looking toward careers in the field, the decision opens a door. For people – and animals – in South Carolina who are underserved, the decision is overdue.
Clemson’s new college of veterinary medicine is scheduled to welcome its first incoming class in 2026 and produce its first new doctors in 2030.
Whether he chooses Clemson or another school, that’s perfect timing for Terry and other current undergraduates who want to become veterinarians.
“It’s a more comforting feeling, knowing that if you’re from South Carolina, you’re kind of used to the environment, and kind of get the atmosphere,” he said. “It doesn’t make you feel like you’re starting over in another state.”
Terry, who wants to specialize in the treatment of large animals, said he was already considering North Carolina State, Tennessee and Georgia, which is only nominally farther from his Greenwood home than Clemson.
But spots at Georgia, Mississippi State and Tuskegee universities – the three schools that have tuition reciprocity agreements with the state – are limited. Those who do not receive tuition assistance from the state’s agreement have to pay more expensive out-of-state tuition rates.
Currently, the state provides tuition coverage for 46 students to pursue veterinary education at Tuskegee (seven), Mississippi State (10) and Georgia (29) at a cost of over $6 million per year.
When Terry first began research into veterinary schools, he just assumed Clemson, which has roots as a land-grant college and a distinguished history in agriculture education, would be among them. He was surprised to learn they wouldn’t be, at least not initially.
“I was looking at requirements for different schools and all that, and I didn’t see Clemson on there,” he recalled.
The absence of a veterinary school in the state has helped exacerbate a shortage of veterinarians even as South Carolina’s human and animal populations have continued to grow.
Dr. David Hardy, a Laurens product who received his undergraduate degree from Clemson and now owns and operates Family Pet Medicine in Laurens, said he has attempted to find a new associate for his practice, but has come up empty so far.
After finishing Clemson, Hardy went to Georgia to receive his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine but returned to his home state and home county. His practice is among four along with Clinton Animal Hospital, Holmes Veterinary Hospital and Trinity Ridge Animal Health located in Laurens County.
“There appears to be a shortage of veterinarians currently as I’ve been unsuccessful in recruiting an associate,” Hardy said in an email reply for this story. “From what I hear from veterinary drug representatives and veterinary supply representatives I am not alone in my search for help.
“Prior to the addition of a veterinary college in South Carolina, if you are a South Carolina resident desiring to become a veterinarian you would have to apply to out of state veterinary schools.”
When Clemson graduates its first class of veterinarians as planned in 2030, the U.S. and the state are expected to see a shortage of veterinarians. The expected shortage of 15,000 needed veterinarians could leave around 75 million animals nationwide without access to care.
There are currently around 1,400 active and retired veterinarians living in South Carolina and serving around 5.2 million residents, according to numbers supplied by Clemson’s steering committee for the new school.
Laurens state Sen. Danny Verdin was among those in Columbia determined to help fund the $285 million project at the state level. In addition to the $285 million initial investment, operating costs are expected to be around $19 million annually.
“This is the biggest thing to happen in South Carolina higher education since I’ve been serving (in the Senate),” said Verdin, who was initially elected to the Senate in 2001. “The state is woefully short on veterinarians.“I have been an advocate for many years encouraging my colleagues to consider this.”
Adam Petty, Laurens County 4-H youth development agent and a Clemson graduate, said he is happy to see his alma mater provide an in-state option for some of his 4-H members who are considering careers in veterinary medicine and those across the state.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Petty said. “It will keep people here in South Carolina. It will train them in South Carolina to hopefully serve the people of South Carolina.”