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Education in Audiology: An Interview with Gerald T. Church, PhD, Director of Audiology at Central Michigan University

Education in Audiology: An Interview with Gerald T. Church, PhD, Director of Audiology at Central Michigan University

March 10, 2009 Interviews

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, interviews Dr. Gerald T. Church, regarding personal observations on audiology education in the United States.

Academy: Hi, Jerry. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

Church: Hi, Doug. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you.

Academy: Thanks. Jerry, if you don’t mind, would you please tell me where and when you earned your doctorate?

Church: I earned my doctorate from Syracuse University in 1981.

Academy: Some people just can’t get enough of snow country! When did you join Central Michigan University (CMU)?

Church: I joined CMU in 1981, became director of the audiology program in 1992 and we started the AuD residential program in 1994.

Academy: I believe that makes CMU the longest running AuD program in the world?

Church: Yes, that’s correct. And, then in 1998, we joined forces with Vanderbilt to get the Jackson Foundation Grant, which allowed us to start our distance education program.

Academy: And as far as the distance education program, you’ve stopped admitting new students?

Church: Yes. We actually stopped admitting new distance education students in January 2006. There are still a few people finishing up their programs so we are still offering courses. When the entire distance education program is finished, we’ll have graduated some 275 students through that channel.

Academy: Okay, and to put that in perspective, how many students have graduated through the CMU residential program since 1994?

Church: We’ve had 97 graduates through 2008 and then this semester we’ve got another nine graduating. The class of 2012 has 11, and the class of 2011 has 12, and the class of 2010 has seven students.

Academy: Excellent. It’s great to have that many students and such a large class. I know the students at CMU have a remarkable facility, an excellent faculty and staff and quite a nice externship situation. Additionally, CMU offers state-of-the-art audiometric diagnostics as well as a vestibular laboratory experience that includes two rotary chair systems as well as platform posturography, VEMPs, and more… but what about the students that go to the smaller programs?

I think we’ve gone from about 135 audiology programs issuing master’s degrees to about 72 programs offering AuDs, but that still seems to be about 50 or 60 programs too many. I was reading recently that in the United States and Canada, in calendar year 2005, some 1,400 optometrists graduated from 20 schools of optometry in North America.

Church: Yes, I have to agree. We have too many schools. Ideally, you want to have enough students to pay for the program while offering exciting and top of the line equipment and a second-to-none clinical and academic experience. I really don’t know how the smaller programs get by, but there are only about 500 audiology graduates per year from the on-campus programs.

Academy: Does audiology have the same “drawing power” as optometry or dentistry?

Church: No, not really. The thing is, with all of these programs, because they each need to have a certain number of students to operate their facility, they may eventually have to admit students that are less well prepared than other professional doctoral programs. I’m not saying our students aren’t among the best, indeed they are. I think the average student here has a GPA of 3.6 on entry into the program, so we’re not exactly scraping the bottom!

Our students are very talented. But, as we have more and more schools competing for a limited number of talented students, the trend may well be that lesser prepared students will be admitted across the United States because there are so many programs that need to have students. Another major consideration is the lack of PhDs teaching in audiology programs across the United States. For example, assume we have about 225 PhDs teaching audiology. If we have 75 programs that allows an average of three PhDs per program, but if we had 22 programs, then each program could have about 10 PhDs. So there is a certain beneficial “economy of scale” that works for the program, works for the students and works for the profession to have fewer programs with more resources for each program. But right now, we don’t have an actual “clearinghouse” for programs, that is, no one is in charge!

Academy: What about the Council of the AuD Programs (CAUDP), what do they have to say about this situation?

Church: Well, they will re-convene this year, for the first time in quite a while.

Academy: And so they’ll serve as a clearinghouse for AuD programs?

Church: Well, I’m not sure exactly what their function will be, but I presume they’ll be very useful with regard to analysis and guidance for the U.S. audiology programs.

Academy: And what happens if the CAUDP recommends fewer programs? Can you envision anyone volunteering to close their programs?

Church: No, I don’t think so. I think each of the programs wants to continue, and even the accreditation process is poised to accredit more schools as the accrediting bodies make money based on the number of programs they accredit. So the only way to whittle it down may be due to the students applying only to the bigger programs and then if the smaller programs have fewer and fewer students, then they’ll be forced to close. In other words, the market place may take care of the problem in the long term.

Academy: That’s a fascinating thought. So in other words, if the AuD student applicants were to seek out the bigger programs, that is, the programs with the most to offer with regard to equipment, faculty, academic and clinical experience, they would prevail and the smaller schools would be forced to reconsider their programs?

Church: Sure. Of course none of us want to say this program should stay or that program should close. That’s not my goal or desire, and frankly, it’s not my immediate concern. Basically, my concern is that for the long term, as we move forward as a profession, that our professional schools are more in line with the rigorous academic and professional needs of our students and that we admit the best qualified students we can attract to the profession. AuD programs must provide the best and maximal experience for their students.

Academy: These certainly are important considerations, Jerry. I thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Let’s touch base in 10 years and see where this all goes!

Church: Okay, deal. I’ll put it in my calendar.

Academy: Thanks, Jerry. I appreciate your time.

Church: My pleasure, Doug.

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.

Click here for more information about CMU’s audiology program.

Click here for more information about the CAUDP.

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