Monday, November 18, 2013

A Lesson from a Different Profession

Law schools are not the first profession to suffer declining enrollments, and a changing profession. Dental schools experienced a similar decline over 2 decades ago. As a result of a shrinking job market, dental school applications dropped at an alarming rate. Accordingly, some universities decided to close their dental schools. A 1987 article in the New York Times reported:

Georgetown University's 86-year-old dental school has no first-year students this fall. Over the next three years the Washington school will be gradually shut down, unless students and faculty members win a lawsuit to block the move. Georgetown, formerly the nation's largest private dental school, decided to close after a Price Waterhouse study found that the school would have a $3.6 million deficit by 1992. In Atlanta, Emory University's dental school will be graduating its last class of dentists this spring, then converting itself into a postdoctoral and research institution… Many of the 57 other dental schools in the United States have cut back the size of their classes, unable to attract enough qualified applicants. According to the American Association of Dental Schools, applications have dropped by almost two-thirds since 1975. The academic quality of the applicants has declined, too. High Tuition and Debt And dental schools face other problems: Tuition that tops $15,000 a year at some private dental schools discourages many applicants, as does the fact that the average private dental school graduate has educational debts of $51,000.

What is interesting is that among the universities choosing to shut down their dental programs were prestigious schools like Georgetown and Emory. My understanding is that those universities determined that their dental schools no longer attracted the types of students they wanted to have at their institutions. Like law schools, the greatest decline in dental school applications occurred at the top end of standardized scores and undergraduate GPA’s. Emory and Georgetown were concerned that the students in their dental schools would not reflect the high credentials of students in their other programs, so they decided that it was better to close the doors, than to allow the dental school to “dumb down” the university.

The assumption seems to be that it will most likely be fourth-tier schools that will close, if law schools close. Based on what happened to dental schools in an almost identical atmosphere, I am not sure that assumption is correct.

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