Student debt has been in the national spotlight for quite some time. With the rising cost of college tuition and the average student loan debt surpassing $30,000, students now think twice before enrolling in graduate school. However, graduate or professional school is likely non-negotiable when pursuing a career in healthcare. It’s time to speak frankly about the cost of audiology graduate education and the return on investment. Garrett Thompson, a fourth year student at the City University of New York, discussed the student loan crisis among audiology students in his article “The AuD Student Loan Quagmire” in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Audiology Today. This article will add to the discussion by comparing audiology graduate education and financial investment to dentistry, another doctoral-level profession.

Educational Structure
Audiology doctoral programs consist of 3-4 years of classroom and clinical training. The final stage of clinical training, commonly known as the externship, is a full-time position at a clinic for approximately one year. Many aspects of the externship vary, including setting, specialty, salary, and tuition costs. Students may be required to pay full tuition to their university, reduced tuition, or no tuition at all, and the position may be paid or unpaid. The average* audiology program total tuition cost is approximately $100,000.

Dentistry programs are typically 4-year graduate programs. Full-time clinical training occurs post-graduation and is known as the residency. Unlike medical (physician) residencies, dental residencies are optional. Dental residencies are only required if a specialty is desired. Tuition during a dental residency may or may not be required, and positions may be paid or unpaid. The average dental program total tuition cost is $156,630.

There are many differences between audiology and dentistry, including the complex histories of each profession. However, making a direct comparison can help us understand where a degree in audiology stands in comparison to other clinical doctorates.

Return on Investment
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for an audiologist was $74,890 in 2015. This value is the average income for audiologists regardless of experience in the field. When accounting for experience, those with 1-3 years in the field make $10,000 less on average for a total of $65,954 per year. In comparison, the median annual pay for a dentist (general, non-specialty) was $152,700. Using the tuition values previously mentioned, a degree in dentistry costs approximately 1.58 times of that of an audiology degree. However, the average dentist makes more than twice as much as the average audiologist! Additionally, dentists make over 97% of what they paid in tuition with one year’s salary. Audiologists only make 75% of their total tuition in one year. If audiologists made as much as dentists (as determined by percentage of the total tuition made in one year), audiologists would make an average of $97,000 per year. In essence, audiology students are paying more to make less money.

Final Thoughts
As we continue to elevate the profession of audiology, we cannot ignore the financial burden on our students. How can we justify ever-rising tuition costs when the return on investment continues to fall behind that of other clinical doctoral professions?  Is it ethical to expect students with mounting student debt to participate in full-time, unpaid positions?

How can students become part of the solution? Get involved with professional organizations locally and nationally! Our professional organizations are in need of aspiring minds to provide a new perspective. As a current student, you are especially qualified to tackle the problems affecting this generation of graduates. We must find creative solutions that make cents all around.

*Note: The average cost of tuition as reported by eight current students was used in lieu of national values as the statistics are not widely available. Names of the academic institutions were withheld as not to single out any one institution. Two 3-year and six 4-year programs as well as in-state and out-of-state tuition were represented.  When average national data is compiled, a more extensive comparison can be made between audiology and dentistry.

Farah Dubaybo is a fourth-year graduate student at the Washington University in St. Louis. She is completing her externship at Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital.

References

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016, March 30). 29-1021 Dentists, General. Retrieved March 03, 2017, from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291021.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015, December 17). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Audiologists. Retrieved March 03, 2017, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/audiologists.htm

American Dental Education Association. (2013, March). A Report of The ADEA Presidential Task Force on the Cost of Higher Education and Student Borrowing. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://www.adea.org/uploadedFiles/ADEA/Content_Conversion_Final/publications/Documents/ADEACostandBorrowingReportMarch2013.pdf

The Institute for College Access & Success. (2016, October). Student Debt and The Class of 2015, 11th Edition.. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://ticas.org/sites/default/files/pub_files/classof2015.pdf

Greenwood, E. (n.d.). The Salary for an Orthodontics Residency. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://work.chron.com/salary-orthodontics-residency-29122.html

American Academy of Audiology. (n.d.). Compensation and Benefits Survey. Retrieved March 03, 2017, from http://www.audiology.org/about-us/membership/benefits/compensation-and-benefits-survey

Thompson, G. (2016, Sept. & oct.). The AuD Student Quagmire. Audiology Today28(5), 46-51. Retrieved March 3, 2017, from http://online.qmags.com/AT0916?sessionID=D8404E0ABF04988A890A18EF9&cid=3102486&eid=19985#pg48&mode2