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Letters: Addressing student debt

September 15, 2014 Over the past four years, the ADA, through its Council on Dental Education and Licensure and Health Policy Institute, has spent considerable resources studying the cost of dental education and student debt. The issues are complex and there are no easy answers.

A key threat to the long-term financial sustainability of public and state-related schools is the significant reductions in state support. We believe that the current models of dental education can remain sustainable at the current funding level; however, further increases in tuition, combined with a flattening of dentists' income, could make dental education less attractive in the future educational marketplace.

Common methods of financial efficiency can be challenging to develop, given the different financial models used by 65 universities and their dental schools (e.g., whether costs are centralized or decentralized, contributions of the parent institution, scope and depth of the research program, amount of free or subsidized care provided). ADA plays a role in enhancing efforts and commitments for lowering dental education costs and reducing student borrowing by promoting financial literacy and quality financial aid services, pursing funding for scholarships, increasing philanthropic support to dental schools and advocating for loan repayment and forgiveness programs and increased reimbursement for safety-net clinical care.

A 2013 study conducted by the ADA reported a great variation in operating costs among the 65 dental schools. However, as long as the return on investment allows students to pay off educational debt in a reasonable amount of time, the profession will continue to attract a large number of qualified applicants to fill the total number of available positions. Institutional setting (public versus private) does not seem to matter as a driver of overall revenue and overall expenses, particularly in recent years when financial support from states to their public universities has diminished.

ADA can continue to be most effective in addressing the student debt issue through a defined program of advocacy at the federal level and through development of robust information to help current and prospective students be fully informed, financially literate consumers about a career in dentistry, including workforce forecasting reports, student debt, expected income and life-long financial planning.

Teresa Dolan, D.D.S.
Chair, ADA Council on Dental
Education and Licensure
York, Pennsylvania