Much has been made of the proliferation of new optometry schools. It seems every week there is a news release announcing yet another institution of higher learning studying the possibility of opening an optometry school, most recently in Arkansas.
Much has been made of the proliferation of new optometry schools. It seems every week there is a news release announcing yet another institution of higher learning studying the possibility of opening an optometry school, most recently in Arkansas. I'm sure we've all heard the standard complaints: there's too many of us already, there aren't any jobs as it is, the applicant pool is diluted, etc.
Surely these same concerns have arisen previously for other professions. I’m a firm believer in studying history, so might optometry find parallels there? Let's take a look, for instance, at law schools and the legal profession. 2013 was the third consecutive year for double-digit drops in law school applicants, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Why the drop in law school applications? Because graduate and professional school applicants are by and large very sharp individuals, and they see there are too many new law school graduates chasing too few jobs. Employment rates for new law school graduates are at their lowest levels since 1996. In 2012, only 56.2 percent of all law school graduates found full-time employment in their chosen field, and nearly 28 percent were unemployed or underemployed, a particularly troubling prospect considering the debt level of most law school graduates.
In 2013, the average debt of public-law school graduates was $84,600, while the debt of graduates from private law schools was $122,158.3 By comparison, a recent survey conducted by OptometryDebt.com showed the average 2014 optometry graduate’s debt to be $189,837, (albeit in a very small sample size) with a range from $90,000 to $250,000.1
More from Dr. Bowling: Are there too many optometrists?
In response to the reduction in law school applicants, some law schools are reducing the size of their incoming classes. At least four law schools have announced plans to shrink the size of their incoming classes over the next few years. In some cases, frustrated law school graduates are saying they were misled about their career prospects and are suing their alma maters. So it seems some of those legal graduates are putting their education to use doing what they were trained to do, albeit in a way I’m sure they nor their educators would ever have imagined.
Should optometry be concerned? While the results of the recent AOA-commissioned manpower study state the levels of optometrists will be “adequate” for the future, others have sounded a much more dire warning.2 I believe this debate will rectify itself if this information is made available to undergraduates considering optometry programs. As I mentioned earlier, graduate students are no dummies. Few will pursue an optometric education if the prospect for underemployment or unemployment is made known. Class sizes will reduce through no effort of the schools. And optometry will eventually achieve a stasis after what could be a very long and painful process.
1. The 2014 student loan deb survey. Available at www.optometrydebt.com. Accessed 9/2/2014.
2. Myers K. The future surplus of ODs will be immense. ODwire.org, August 22, 2011. Available at: www.odwire.org/threads/the-future-surplus-of-ods-will-be-immense.63260/. Accessed 12/13/2014.