Recently, on consecutive days, National Public Radio ran segments about declining enrollment at universities.
And today, the president of a state university 60 miles from me (without an optometry school) noted, for the first time, a decline in his entering freshman class sizes while the president of the state university nearest me (with an optometry school) had maintained entering freshman enrollment by changing entrance requirements.
This website has, for ten years, been a critic of the many new optometry schools that have opened and the almost doubling of optometry school graduates that has produced a decline in numbers of “qualified” applicants per optometry school seats. The ratio of “qualified”, non-duplicate applications now flirts with one per seat. The universities creating those new optometry schools justified them by citing “inflated” federal reports (based upon optometry provided estimates) claiming more optometrists were needed, and that new optometry school would provide “jobs” or provide eye care to underserved areas. However, the number of optometrists per capita had already been climbing for some time and there is ample evidence increasing optometry graduates does not proportionally increase the numbers practicing in underserved areas unless given monetary incentives such as student load abatements for practicing there. In the absence of incentives graduates will continue to open practices in urban areas rather than poverty stricken rural areas.
It is also well known that the numbers entering universities tend to rise in economic recessions and to decline in good times and that optometry school applicants rise and fall proportionally with university enrollments. Our Nation, since the end of the Korean War, has gone from about 20% of high school graduates attending a university to over 60%.
It is therefore concerning that while the numbers of optometry graduates has almost doubled (and another new school is proposed) the ratio of qualified applicants to seats has seriously declined and the country is overdue for a recession from being in the longest “bull market” to exist on Wall Street.
Nor is it reassuring that a recent independent study found that optometry school graduates have the highest ratio of student debt to projected earnings of any health profession (medical school graduates have one-half the debt to earnings ratio facing optometry graduates).
And, at last count the total national student debt held by current and former university students was over 1.4 trillion dollars, larger than all the credit card debt held by the entire US population.
Meanwhile, for the last 15 years, the numbers of medical and dental students have remained almost constant while the number of podiatric students has declined.
Nor is it realistic to think this Nation could afford to repay all outstanding student loan debt or to “wave a wand” and forgive all student debt.
For all these reasons I believe some optometry schools should plan how to survive in the future by reducing their class size.
For an unacceptable response would be to reduce entrance requirements and put less qualified students in those seats.
And it is possible that some optometry schools may have to either close or water down their entrance standards which will damage our profession and patients.
This may be why one of the newer schools posting faculty recruitment ads specify they are non-tenure track.
After posting the above, a colleague sent this link to me.