The beginning of 2020 marked the start  of the 22nd decennial census of the United States.

The first census was conducted in 1790 during the presidency of George Washington. At the time of the first census, the U.S. population was 3.9 million. Today, the population is approximately 330 million, a number that depicts America’s changes and expansion (Gauthier, 2020; U.S. Census Bureau, 2020).

U.S. census data is used to inform the allocation of federal and local resources. An accurate and complete counting of all of the individuals in the U.S. is of paramount importance to ensure these resources are appropriately distributed for the nation’s population.

Introduction

Similar to the purpose of the U.S. census, it is crucial to record student population changes over time to provide adequate resources to serve students appropriately.

The Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) identified a gap in knowledge about the audiology student population. In February 2020, the SAA distributed the inaugural Audiology Student Census (the Census). The Census captured the current demographics, characteristics, and interests of this population. The results  should interest key stakeholders, including universities (undergraduate and graduate programs), accrediting organizations, professional organizations, and audiology patients.

To the authors’ knowledge, the SAA was the first to systematically report and publicly share the demographics, financial status, interests, and preferences of audiology students, as reported by those students. Health-care professions with similar clinical doctorate educational models have been collecting demographic, financial, and other detailed data on their graduate students for 10 or more years.

The SAA intends to formally share in the future all data collected from the Census. This article highlights the main findings regarding audiology student demographics and compares and contrasts the Census results with numbers available for professional audiologists and clinical doctoral students in optometry and dentistry.

Methods

The Census was distributed via SAA local chapter contacts and high-traffic audiology social media accounts. To obtain responses from as many audiology graduate programs as possible, targeted emails were sent to graduate programs that were not otherwise represented with general distribution efforts.

Students were incentivized to participate by the opportunity to enter a drawing for one of six $10 Amazon gift cards. SAA members and non-members at the undergraduate and graduate levels participated in the Census, which generated 418 responses from 83 universities. All demographic-related questions were obtained from an at-will response.

The SAA Census racial and ethnic demographic information was obtained using the same categories as the U.S. census.

The American Dental Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry provided the most recent (i.e., 2018–19) demographic information available on their graduate students. Their data were obtained by directly soliciting information from the majority of accredited programs, not through a voluntary survey.

Additionally, data on the demographics of professional audiologists, collected by the U.S. Census Bureau (2018), in conjunction with the American Community Survey (ACS), was used. The ACS data is shared with the public using the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS), allowing individuals to create custom tables that might not be available through summary data provided by the ACS or the Census Bureau.

Due to differences in methodology on sex and race data collection among the four groups, the authors presented the closest  comparison when possible, for simplicity and ease of reading.

Results

Seventy-five percent of the SAA Census participants identified as an audiology doctoral student. As indicated in TABLE 1, 92.3 percent of the student respondents identified as female, 7.4 percent as male, and less than 1 percent as other. The average respondent age was 24.8 years.

TABLE 1. Comparison of Demographics by Sex
MALE FEMALE OTHER
Audiology Students* 7.4% 92.3% 0.3%
Dentistry** 49.2% 50.5% 0.2%
Optometry*** 31.8% 68.2% *****
Current Audiologists**** 16.1% 83.9% *****
*As collected from the SAA 2020 Audiology Student Census
**As reported by the Commission on Dental Accreditation: https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/dental-s…
***As reported by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry: https://optometriceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ASCO-Student-…
****As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau 2018
*****not reported

 

In contrast, in 2018, 83.9 percent of U.S. audiologists were female and 16.1 percent were male, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The average audiologist age in 2018 was 40.9 years, according to the Census Bureau (2018).

The demographic differences by sex are noteworthy (TABLE 1). Although optometry, like audiology, showed a stronger female representation, female optometry students made up 68.2 percent of the total number and male students accounted for 31.8 percent of the total. Dentistry showed a nearly equal representation of male (49.2 percent) and female (50.5 percent) students.

TABLE 2 provides information on demographics by race and ethnicity obtained from the SAA Census, available data for U.S. graduate students in optometry and dentistry, and U.S. census data on professional audiologists.

TABLE 2. Comparison of Demographics by Race/Ethnicity
AUDIOLOGY STUDENTS* DENTISTRY** OPTOMOLOGY*** CURRENT AUDIOLOGISTS****
White 81.90% 51.10% 51.40% 90.80%
Black or African American 2.90% 5.30% 2.70% 3.59%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 4.60% 9.00% 6.60% *****
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.00% 0.40% 0.50% 0.00%
Asian 6.00% 24.00% 30.30% 3.10%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.00% 0.20% 0.30% 0.00%
Two or More races 4.30% 3.00% 2.00% 2.49%
Unknown ***** 2.50% 6.10% *****
**As reported by the Commission on Dental Accreditation: https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/dental-s…
***As reported by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry: https://optometriceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ASCO-Student-…
****As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau 2018
*****not reported

 

Audiology students showed a large proportion (81.9 percent) identifying as White, while dentistry and optometry both had slightly more than 51 percent of students identified as White. A total of 30.3 percent of optometry students were identified as Asian, 24 percent of the dentistry students were identified as Asian, and 6 percent of the audiology students described themselves as Asian. Dentistry had the highest number of Black or African American students (5.30 percent), followed by audiology (2.90 percent) and optometry  (2.70 percent).

For audiology professionals, the demographics included 90.80 percent White, 3.59 percent Black or African American, and 3.10 percent Asian, according to the U.S. census data.

The SAA Census examined hearing data for respondents. Eleven percent of the SAA Census respondents reported using a hearing technology device in one of four categories and three percent reported a hearing loss but do not use amplification (TABLE 3). Adding these numbers together, the Census could indicate that 14 percent of audiology students have a hearing loss.

TABLE 3. Hearing Status of the Respondents to the SAA 2020 Audiology Student Census
NORMAL HEARING (HEARING WITHIN NORMAL LIMITS) UNILATERAL HEARING AID BILATERAL HEARING AIDS BILATERAL COCHLEAR IMPLANTS BIMODAL (COCHLEAR IMPLANT + HEARING AID) HAVE HEARING LOSS BUT NOT WEARING AMPLIFICATION
86% 1% 7% 2% 1% 3%

 

Although not a perfect comparison, it is estimated that 15 percent of the U.S. population ages 18 and above have some degree of hearing loss (NIDCD, 2016).

Discussion

The demographic data on race and sex present a predominantly homogeneous population for audiology students and professionals in the field, with opportunities to grow diversity. The student population is 81.9 percent White and 92.3 percent female, according to the SAA Census data. The population of audiology professionals is 90.8 percent White and 83.9 percent female, according to the U.S. census data.

The student population shows a slightly increased racial diversity in some areas, with 6 percent of students identifying as Asian, while 3.1 percent of audiology professionals were identified as Asian. A total of 4.3 percent of students identified as two or more races, while 2.49 percent of audiology professionals were identified in that category. Black or African American students made up 2.9 percent of the student population, while 3.59 percent of professional audiologists were identified as Black or African American.

One exciting result from the SAA Census information is the representation of students with hearing loss. Professionals with hearing loss share the lived experiences of the patients they serve. Students with hearing loss also bring a first-hand perspective to classroom and clinical training programs, which creates opportunities for students of all hearing statuses to learn from each other. The authors are proud to see this group represented among current audiology students and hope to see growth in that representation in a future census.

While the 2020 SAA Census did not capture responses from all audiology students, establishing a student census as a legacy initiative allows for growth to a 100 percent response rate in the future. With most doctoral programs based on a four-year academic model, the SAA Census may require a similar four-year cycle to accurately represent the student population over time.

The SAA Census serves as the start of a quantitative analysis of the nature of our profession’s student population. This data should be used to inform decisions about the future of the audiology profession by providing an understanding of the basic demographics of the incoming professionals.

More specifically, the profession should focus on recruitment efforts based on diversity and inclusivity in order to best attract and retain students. To that end, the SAA added the Diversity and Inclusion pillar to its global goals. Over the coming years, the SAA will actively and explicitly seek out opportunities and initiatives to broaden the diversity and inclusivity of our student population and future audiologists.


References

American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. (2019) Education. www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/dental-statistic… (accessed April 12, 2020).

Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. (2019) Annual Student Data Report: Academic Year 2018–2019. https://optometriceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ASCO-Student-… (accessed April 12, 2020).

Gauthier J. (2020) History of the Census. U.S. Census Bureau. www.census.gov/history/www/homepage_archive/2020/april_2020.html (accessed April 2, 2020).

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders (NIDCD). (2016) Quick Statistics About Hearing. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing# (accessed April 8, 2020).

U.S. Census Bureau. (2018) American Community Survey (ACS) One-Year Estimates Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS). https://data.census.gov/mdat/?#/search?ds=ACSPUMS1Y2018 (accessed April 2, 2020).

U.S. Census Bureau. (2020) About the Decennial Census. www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/about.html (accessed April 2, 2020).

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audiologyStudentsSAA – Student Academy of Audiology