Since the publication of my article in the October issue on the growing cost of audiology education (http://bit.ly/AuDCosts), I've had the opportunity to discuss the topic with some of my colleagues and former professors, as well as with several current AuD students.
While opinions differed somewhat on exactly how to address the issue, I found complete agreement among professionals and students that the skyrocketing cost of obtaining an AuD is becoming a very serious problem and has not been given enough attention by our national organizations.
Obviously those most concerned about this trend are the ones directly affected: the students. I discussed the role rising costs play in decisions about audiology education with two members of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association Executive Council, Chasity Moore and Caleb McNiece. Ms. Moore is a fourth-year AuD student at Arizona State University and a fourth-year AuD extern at ChicagoENT, and Mr. McNiece is a third-year AuD student at the University of Memphis.
Dr. Liebe: Do you think the continued rise in tuition and fees is going to affect the number of people seeking an AuD in the future?
Ms. Moore: Yes, I think the rise in tuition, along with the length of the AuD degree and compensation, will have an effect on enrollment. I have seen students from my undergraduate program decide to get their MS in speech-language pathology because it takes less time, the days off are better, and they often make more money.
Dr. Liebe: How important was financial aid, including scholarships and assistantships, in your choice of school?
Ms. Moore: I'm a returning adult student, so there were many more factors to consider. If I were a traditional student, it would have been extremely important, since there are no Pell grants for graduate-level work.
Mr. McNiece: I chose a program that offered a graduate assistantship over a program that was ranked similarly but had graduate assistantships available only for PhD students. The assistantship was especially important because it covered out-of-state tuition. Prospective students who visit our program always ask about assistantships and the cost of tuition.
Dr. Liebe: In your opinion, how big of an issue is the rising cost of audiology education for students? What sort of comments do you hear?
Ms. Moore: The concern I have heard from students is about value. Many feel that while their program may have prepared them well, they're worried that they aren't going to be able to pay back their student loans, or even get a job.
Mr. McNiece: It's definitely a big issue. I had a friend comment that he considers paying back his student loan debt as if it were a second mortgage payment. When we consider that students typically will have completed eight years of school by the time the AuD is conferred, it is a significant investment.
Dr. Liebe: Although the topic is controversial, do you think if more programs chose the ‘accelerated’ three-year AuD model, which is currently being used at Northwestern University and Pacific University, to cut costs that they would attract more students?
Ms. Moore: Yes, I have seen many students consider this option, but the higher cost to attend a private school often deters them. I think that if more universities went that route, it would definitely attract a larger number of students.
Mr. McNiece: It depends on how the program is billed. One would expect there to be the same amount of credit hours involved in both a three-year and a four-year program, so tuition that is billed by the credit hour may not be any cheaper. The distinct advantage comes in entering the work place a year sooner. Condensing the material while maintaining the same academic standards and rigor will definitely increase the workload of the program, which may not be ideal for all students.
Dr. Liebe: What changes do you think we can make as a profession to help improve some of these issues?
Ms. Moore: I think public education is really lacking. I think it's important that we do a better job of promoting the value of our services. If our services were truly seen as valuable and important, reimbursement and compensation would likely improve. I think if the public were better educated, there also wouldn't be as much confusion about the different types of hearing healthcare providers.
Mr. McNiece: I would strongly echo Chasity's statements. This is a critical time period for audiology. The projected numbers—as we see baby boomers beginning to retire, combined with ever-increasing early identification—indicate the potential for incredible growth in the field. Audiologists need to establish themselves as the experts in the fields of hearing and balance. As recognition increases, there would hopefully be increases in the compensation received for services.