Decline in enrollment, lack of exposure caused the closure.
By Cynthia M. Herrera
This college is closing the doors on its dental laboratory technology program, which is one of only two such programs at community colleges in Texas and among the most venerable in the United States.
The closure mirrors a trend throughout the country, said Richard W. Valachovic, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association.
Mike Swain, program coordinator of dental laboratory technology, said the decision to close the program was made nine or 10 months ago because of a lack of students.
“I am deeply disappointed, and so are laboratory owners that I have talked with in San Antonio,” he said.
The program has nine students enrolled.
That’s down from 17 who started in fall 2013, when the dean had to approve the class because enrollment was under the 25-student minimum.
The program did not receive enough exposure, Swain said. Some students found out about it only by chance, he said, noting he is a one-person operation.
“The National Association of Dental Laboratories is saddened to see the program close,” said Bennett Napier, CAE, chief staff executive and publisher of the Journal of Dental Technology.
Dental lab technicians make dentures, crown and bridges. Dentures are removable frames that hold artificial teeth.
Crowns and bridges, unlike dentures, are permanent artificial teeth cemented together with existing teeth.
The program began in 1970 at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Napier said.
It remained there when this college acquired the program in 2005. Two years later, the program moved into the nursing complex, where a laboratory was built specifically for the program.
The program is one of the oldest in the country and served as a model for other schools, Napier said. The only other community college program in Texas is at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen.
When the program started, it flourished with 26 students and two instructors at its peak, Swain said. He has been with the program since 1978.
Safan Ali, a 2009 graduate of the dental laboratory technology program, said it is a “really good and strong foundation, and good starting point.”
Ali owns Jim’s Orthodontics Lab in Houston, which he opened about five years ago.
Ali said he will provide internships for students if they are in good academic standing and receive Swain’s approval.
Dental laboratory technology is a growing field, according to the Journal of Dental Technology from the National Association of Dental Laboratories.
Ali attributes this to the increasing use of digital technology in the dental field.
Wages for dental technicians have gone up 4 percent from last year, and the hiring percentage for new technicians went up 4.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Despite that, dental lab technology programs aren’t attracting as many students nationwide. First-year enrollment has declined from 908 in 1989-90 to 435 in 2011-2012, according to the American Dental Education Association.
At this college, five of the program’s students will graduate in spring 2015 with a certificate and associate degree; the other four will receive a certificate and continue general education courses to complete their degree, Swain said.
“The dental community at large and lab owners in particular have benefited greatly from the knowledge and skills of technicians who had their start in this program,” Swain said. “Lab businesses in San Antonio will have to settle for a lesser qualified employee.”