Audiologists’ educations are way too expensive according to many consumers, all of whom are students. Their view is expressed and examined in a post series that dares to question the value of an AuD degree.  That question requires exploration of many factors:  economic preferences, attitudes, post-graduate salaries, 4th year internships, faculty expertise, gender politics…. and on and on.  

The AuD cost series began in Hearing Economics, but soon took on a life of its own under then-Guest Editor Kevin Liebe, AuD.  Dr Liebe did such an outstanding job of launching the series that we’ve asked him to continue to expand it in Hearing Views, as well as maintain that section for opinions of all types.  He is a joy to work with as a Guest Editor and undoubtedly will prove to be an even bigger joy as a Section Editor.  Please give him a round of applause.  

Thank you, thank you, thank you very much

And now back to work.   Not everybody thinks the AuD’s problems lie in increasing tuition.  A recent Hearing View by two eminent current or former AuD faculty, Drs. Barry Freeman and Ian Windmill, examines the oft-expressed concern that too many programs produce too few AuD graduates per year. As I read it, they think the real concern lies with programs’ ability to supply a growing workforce demand for future Audiologists.  

Pragmatically, the authors don’t much care whether existing programs increase enrollment or small-enrollment programs increase in number, they just want the workforce problem fixed to prevent Audiology going “out of business in the future.”  Here’s their view:

“… it is crucial that we have a sufficient number of providers, and an appropriate geographic distribution of providers, to ensure that we can meet their need for hearing and balance health care services. If we do not have sufficient providers to meet these needs, then direct-to-consumer service delivery models are more likely to emerge and catch on.”

 Back to you, Dr. Liebe.  As new Editor of Hearing Views and, specifically, education matters:  Just Fix It!  

Education Economics, My Quiet Place


Whew.  So happy Dr Liebe is doing the heavy lifting now so I can go back to thinking about economic theory and not have to fix things.  Here are some economic thoughts for those in charge of fixing things.  

The “we” in Windmill and Freeman’s essay is a different group from the “we” in the AuD cost series.  As usual with economics, there are particular Demand Curves going on here with different Price Elasticities.  

  • Potential Students are a Price Elastic group (I’m guessing).  If the Price is too high and the outcomes (wages) too low, they’ll find substitute Goods and skip the AuD.
  • Current Students are Price Inelastic unless they decide to drop out of their programs.  Their time and dollars comprise a sunk cost that can only be covered by acquisition of professional licensure and employment at a decent wage in Audiology.{{1}}[[1]] I am deliberately ignoring others means, such as meeting and marrying a physician while in graduate school or early years of work.  Windmill and Freeman indirectly acknowledge this hoary tradition that diminishes our workforce at least as much as low-output graduate programs:  Our data indicate that prior to the transition to the AuD as the entry-level degree in audiology, the attrition rate for audiologists within 10 to 12 years after graduation was a staggering 41%. This means that about 4 out of every 10 graduates left the workforce within a decade.”[[1]] They’re going to be with us for as long as it takes to cover their costs and realize a return on investment, unless something better comes along.  
  • Existing AuD programs and faculty are the “we” to which Windmill and Freeman refer.  This “we” differs from student-consumers with different Price Elasticities.  The programmatic “we” is a Price Taker which exercises Monopoly Pricing on the student-consumer groups to maximize profits and cover rising costs (e.g., faculty that want better salaries and benefits). 

Apocalypse Ahead?


Do you see a future collision in the making?  Something’s got to give and that usually means a shift in market equilibrium. Inelastic (Price Insensitive) students are the basis of current program high Pricing.  Future, elastic (Price Sensitive) students are what will set program Pricing, which will drop if we want to maintain or increase enrollments.

Windmill and Freeman correctly comment that those who want fewer programs (and, presumably) higher enrollments, “cannot simply vote programs out of existence.”  I argue — and I believe equally correctly — that the market will do this on its own.  Student consumers will vote with their pocketbooks, either seeking lower-cost AuD programs or foregoing the AuD in favor of greener pastures.  

If greener pastures prevail, then I am again in agreement with Windmill and Freeman:  alternative “service delivery models are more likely to emerge and catch on.”  Audiology as we know it, warts and all, will be transformed into something else.



Finally, the title of today’s post gets spelled out.  MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses.  They’ve been the hot new thing since Coursera–a private venture by two Stanford faculty– joined forces with four universities in 2012 to offer free online courses to the world, so to speak.  The effort was wildly successful in terms of Demand– over 2 MILLION enrolled in the first 8 or 9 months.  Figuring out the Demand Curve has been trickier.  As one faculty participant put it

“Part of what Coursera’s gotten right is that it makes more sense to build your user base first and then figure out later how to monetize it, than to worry too much at the beginning about how to monetize it.” {{2}}[[2]] Not unlike our approach here at HearingHealthMatters, where monetization unfortunately has, and remains, an afterthought![[2]]

Put it on the web and they will come.  And they have, though not to take Audiology courses, of which there are currently none at Coursera or at Udacity, another online university course provider.  

No doubt, accreditation issues stand in the way of Audiology graduate courses hopping on the bandwagon, but you’d think at least a few undergraduate courses would be up by now. There’s urgency to this if you contemplate the possibility that our profession, via the AuD, runs the risk of dilution and abandonment by online students taking courses in biology, chemistry, math in preparation for entry into more forward-thinking programs that are preparing for the MOOCs. 

A word in passing, in anticipation of those who lament the classroom experience and equate online education with diluted quality and corporatization of education.  The latter has already happened.  No doubt, MOOCs have to be a corporate effort, but they are also vast platforms which can be used to feature only the best teachers, not just those who are tenured and/or research-oriented; also to attract the most motivated students, not just those who are entitled or marking time.  I’m no educator, so this paragraph is far past the usual economic reach of this section, but my own recent 4 years of graduate education exposure convinces me that MOOCs have their place, either to reform or replace the current environment which–far too often– promotes an “implicit pact between undergraduates and professors in which teachers give high grades and thin assignments, and students reward them with positive evaluations.

And Now, the Rim Shot


The nickel dropped last week when Georgia Tech announced the first online accredited Masters degree.  It runs on the Udacity platform and the degree is in computer science.  The goal is to “draw thousands of students” to an elite institution at a fraction of tuition costs without student visa concerns. Professors/institution get 60% of revenues, Udacity gets 40%.  Udacity already partners with San Jose State to offer a few for-credit, low-cost online entry-level undergraduate courses, but Georgia Tech’s is the first graduate degree program offered online.

The program is projected to be profitable from the outset and has attracted $2Mil in corporate sponsorship from AT&T. AT&T expects a good return on investment in the program, which it will “use to train employees and find potential hires.”  And that, dear readers, is where I think our profession needs to be if it plans to survive.  

Instead of voting programs out (or in), instead of limiting our profession to those who can pay or shoulder large, long term loans, instead of limiting entry by classroom size or geography, instead of “implicit pacts,” why not structure excellent, accredited graduate programs that partner with manufacturing and technology corporations to offer exceptional courses online to as many as possible, and job possibilities to those who excel in the courses?

 The partnership idea is not new, nor is it an ethical compromise if done right.  Years ago, Earl Harford PhD envisioned and implemented an exemplary program at Starkey Labs{{3}}[[3]]Director of University Services.[[3]] which anticipated much that goes on in current 4th year AuD externship experiences.  The new part for us is doing it all online.

Offer it and they will come.   

photo courtesy of talent thread

About Holly Hosford-Dunn

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, graduated with a BA and MA in Communication Disorders from New Mexico State, completed a PhD in Hearing Sciences at Stanford, and did post-docs at Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston). Post-education, she directed the Stanford University Audiology Clinic; developed multi-office private practices in Arizona; authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles; and taught Marketing, Practice Management, Hearing Science, Auditory Electrophysiology, and Amplification in a variety of academic settings.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the kind words Holly! I’m looking forward picking back up on the education issue in a couple of weeks.

    …Let’s hope audiology can avoid the educational “Apocalypse”.

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