A Dental Education Remains an Attractive Investment

Dr. Richard ValachovicIn this month’s letter, ADEA President and CEO Dr. Rick Valachovic shares the latest news on dental school application trends and other indicators confirming that the profession remains an attractive one.

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article that asked which professional degrees represented a worthwhile investment for students. Not surprisingly, dentistry was featured—along with the tag line, “Teeth Are Back.” I might argue that they never went away, but regardless, it was good to see dental education and its recent growth spurt highlighted in the mainstream media.

As the article pointed out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the profession will grow 16% by 2022, and our new schools and expanded classes will do a good deal to facilitate that growth. First-year enrollment has risen steadily over the last decade, from 4,457 in 2004 to a projected 5,770 this year. That expansion began even earlier, with the accreditation of a single new program at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine in 1997, and really picked up steam between 2008 and 2013 when more than 700 additional first-year seats became available at U.S. dental schools, with slightly more than half of them at new institutions.

The centralized ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (ADEA AADSASSM) also gives us a bird’s-eye view of what is happening in terms of applicants and applications. While the number of dental school applicants most recently peaked in 2007, the applicant pool continues to remain strong at about 12,000 annually.

Without question, dentistry remains an extremely attractive career. U.S. News & World Report dubbed dentistry the number one job in the United States in 2013, and this year the profession ranked number three. The job of physician also ranked high on the list at number eight, but the fact that a student can earn a dental degree, become fully licensed and move directly into practice after three to four years of professional education may be what gives dentistry an edge.

The one cloud on the horizon is, of course, the issue of student debt, which I discussed last year in the September 2013 issue of Charting Progress. While this problem has not gone away and still needs our attention, the good news is that the prospect of student debt does not appear to be deterring young people from entering the dental profession and pursuing a variety of career paths. A recent analysis of ADEA data performed by researchers connected with the American Dental Association revealed some interesting patterns. (The study did not look at students’ intentions to work for dental support organizations, but we know that this career path is gaining in popularity, as I reported in June’s Charting Progress.)

Although the magnitude of students’ graduating debt did have a relationship with students’ intentions concerning where and how they would practice following graduation, it was far less predictive of students’ career choices than other variables. Among the study’s findings:

  • Women dental students were nearly 60% more likely to select careers in teaching, research or administration than were their male counterparts.
  • African-American dental students intended to choose advanced education or government service upon graduation twice as often as other dental students and were three times more likely to intend to choose public health than were their white counterparts.
  • And students whose parents were dentists expressed significantly less intention to follow any of these paths than students whose parents were not in the profession.

By comparison, the magnitude of students’ debt had a small or marginal impact on students’ intentions to enter private practice, and was not correlated at all with students’ intentions to enter public health.

These findings are encouraging and suggest that, in spite of the cost of dental education, there are measures we can take to ensure that enough of our graduates choose some of the less lucrative career options that sustain our profession and improve access to care. Federal loan forgiveness programs under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act continue to be an attractive option for many of our graduates, and ADEA is working to see that funding for these programs remains robust and grows.

We are also ramping up our game on the recruitment side. In 2012, the Association hosted its first ADEA Predental Student Virtual Fair, which brought dental school applicants and admissions officers together over the Internet to explore their educational options. We have since hosted two more of these fairs and a fourth designed for dental students considering advanced education programs. These online events continue to draw not only an eager student audience but also an enthusiastic school, program and corporate partner response. In fact, the virtual fairs have been so successful that, moving into 2015, ADEA’s corporate partners have agreed to raise their ADEA dues to support the dental student virtual fair. That new support will allow us to engage a new vendor to ensure that the fairs continue to serve attendees’ and Member Institutions’ needs as this effort expands in the future.

Just days ago, we also launched a redesigned ADEA GoDental website tailored specifically to the needs of predental and predental hygiene students. The new website is more intuitive and easier to navigate, and by focusing more clearly on its target audiences, it should improve our efforts to recruit students to the dental professions. The new website features a newsletter, makes better use of social media and contains more resources for prehealth advisors. It can also be a great source of information for everyone in the ADEA community who is helping build the profession by mentoring young people.

And on the institutional side? Dental education remains an attractive investment there as well, enough so that several universities are considering opening new dental schools in the next few years. Touro College of Dental Medicine at New York Medical College is the latest addition to the ADEA family. This provisional ADEA Institutional Member anticipates opening its doors to students in 2016. It is noteworthy that all of ADEA’s member dental schools are units of not-for-profit parent universities. Their continued investment in the future of dentistry and confidence in its continued growth is encouraging—especially during this time of fiscal challenges for higher education generally.

1 comment
  1. The statistics are true. Thanks for sharing though. Keep the posts coming.

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