Is owning a dental assisting school a good opportunity for your dental practice

That depends!

Preliminarily, you have to ask yourself the right questions;

  1. Do I have the expertise and team to develop a quality curriculum?

  2. Do I have the time and expertise to put together the required state licensing package?

  3. Do i have the right marketing team to create and manage a high converting marketing campaign?

  4. How do I assemble a good admissions team and train them to sell enrollments?

  5. Do I have a good business and school marketing plan in place?

Most dental practices do have the existing facilities and equipment already operating for patient. But during non-patient hours, they still incur costs and are idle. This presents an opportunity for the practice to generate excellent revenues during non-patient hours without having to reinvest in building and equipment, one of the most expensive aspects of starting any vocational training school. And with good reason. The vocational training business is a $500 Billion industry in the U.S., second only to healthcare in revenue generation.

You may have been thinking about starting a dental assisting school for a while now, but do not know where to start or what’s required. So here are the answers to the preliminary and important questions to contemplate on.

Developing an outcomes-based curriculum is one of the most important tasks you can undertake in starting a dental assisting school for a number of reasons; one is that it has to be approved by the state licensing board. The state regulators will do a preliminary review and then send the curriculum materials to a team of expert reviewers on the subject matter. They will determine if the course is structured in a manner that will produce a good graduate with the level of fundamental knowledge and hands-on job training to gain an entry-level job upon graduation. Are the textbooks, handouts, PPTs, lesson plans, lab manuals, student handouts and other ancillary equipment such as mannequins all consistent with the individual course syllabuses? Are the instructor to student ratios consistent with the square footage of the lecture and lab areas as determined from your submission of the practice’s floor plan? What are the contact hours and what constitutes a contact hour? Is there an externship involved and do you have agreements in place with these facilities?

They will scrutinize every aspect of the curriculum because after all, students are paying you thousands of dollars to be trained in a new career field and in years past, prior to today’s stringent regulations, students were being ripped off by fly by night schools.

So yes, putting together a school licensing package ready to submit to your state board is a very important, detailed and arduous process that requires your strong attention. Not only will the curriculum itself be scrutinized in the new program application, but so will your campus facility, you as the director, your instructor, and any admissions staff, in a separate new school application. In many cases, you’ll also need to submit a business plan with at least two year’s of financial projections. You should have a game plan put together to accomplish licensing your school. Put a trusted staff member in charge of retrieving and organizing documents that are going to be a required part of the package. Make sure that you become very familiar with the state school licensing site and requirements. Develop the required and very important school catalog and enrollment contract so that they are consistent with each other, structurally sound, and have the required component language as dictated by the state’ policies, especially for Refund Policies and Compliant Procedures. many states require you to also submit externship contract agreements with other area dentists

The lifeblood of your new school will be marketing. You probably have already thought about how you’re going to get the word out about your new school. It may be that you’ve already approached the marketing firm that did your practice website and markets for patients. Unfortunately, with student marketing, it doesn’t work that way. Educational marketing is a very specialized niche that requires a strong 3 to 4-month marketing campaign set up to a highly targeted demographic group(s). Selecting an experienced higher education marketing company that doesn’t also do other general types of marketing, is the only way to go. The student demographic is a much sophisticated group than marketing for paints who are looking for endodontic treatments, or dental cosmetic procedures. There are three very distinct groups of students and each with its own types of buyer personas. You have the right message for each group and sub-group, at the right time, with the right content, on the right medium, and institute a strong follow up program. That’s part of what’s going to give you strong returns on marketing investment.

The other part is admissions. Once the marketing does its job of creating an interested student, that doesn’t mean she/he will enroll in your school. If you’re going to spend money on attracting students through a multi-channel marketing campaign, then it would also be wise to make sure your admissions sales process is in place and ready to go. In order to accomplish this your representatives will have to understand not only the program(s) you’re offering, but also have an in-depth knowledge of this demographic’s buying behaviors, especially their decision-making process. They’ll need to know what the three value metrics prospective students weigh most on their decision based on their pain. But that’s a whole new subject that won’t be covered here. Just know that marketing and admissions are NOT the same thing, but go hand in hand and have to be seamless to do their jobs and get you favorable marketing ROIs. In either case, you cannot legally advertise or enroll students until after you are a licensed school.

It’s not enough to have a business plan in place for your school. Most states will require one with at least two years of detailed financial projections. In developing these plans (one for the school and one for the state), you’ll have to be realistic as the state boards know how to spot inconsistencies in the numbers. Do the proper research before starting on projections.

In the end, once you are licensed and enrolling students, you’ll be able to enjoy lasting profits during practice closed hours for years to come.

The Secret to Career School Success - Outcomes

Expensive proprietary schools have enjoyed unparalleled success the past few decades or so, but are now find themselves in both regulatory trouble, and recently, declining enrollments.

It doesn’t take an M.B.A. to determine the underlying causes once you understand at least some of the business practices that is common place in that industry. Let’s take a bird’s high-level view of why more stringent regulatory oversight and declining enrollments for these campuses have EVERYTHING to do with student outcomes, and why MCP focuses on this important aspect to achieve high-quality campus management.

Tuition: They have no choice but to charge large tuition and fees. There are hefty investments (in the millions) for many of these campuses that require returns to keep shareholders happy - More often than not, at the expense of students. It is not uncommon to see tuition costs of well over $18,000 for a 9-month dental assistant career program. And there are other reasons for the hefty tuition charges.

The great majority of these campuses rely on the federal government for 99% of their revenue streams-student Pell Grants, Guaranteed Student Loans, etc. Think about this for a second: How can a student who graduates from a 9-month program, and have over $12,000 in debt plus interest, afford such outrages debt burden on a $32,000 entry level salary as a dental assistant, or auto mechanic, or any number of entry level program the campus offers? They can’t. Especially when this debt represents over 30% of their discretionary earnings. Is it no wonder that over 25% of students end up defaulting on their student loans? That’s 1.56 trillion dollars. These schools bring students in under the pretense that their education is covered by the government with Financial aid, but what they fail to tell the student is that Pell Grants cover only a fraction of the tuition (around $5,000). The rest has to be paid out with federal loans.

The Obama Administration set up stringent guidelines for these schools in an effort to curb the skyrocketing default rate. This for-profit sector has about 8 percent of those enrolled in higher education, according to the U.S. Department of Education, but it has 15 percent of all subsidized student loans. New regulations now limit student loan payments to 20 percent of a graduate's after-tax wages which has had a far and wide sting to campuses relying on those hefty tuitions backed by federal grants and loans.

There are other factors that lead to such high tuition prices;

Department of Education Standards - The DOE sets the qualifying criteria for any school to receive federal financial aid status. The magic number is that any career program be comprised of 600 hours and be accredited with an industry accreditation agency (which usually requires even higher contact hours) to qualify. Add this to the fact that many proprietary schools will add additional hours to justify these program hour requirements that have nothing to do with preparing a student for the workforce.

Number of programs- Small, medium, and large brick and mortar proprietary schools who’s business model is dependent on federal grants and especially loans in order to survive, and who also require an abundance of different career course offerings to attract the maximum number of students with varying interests to drive shareholder value. The affect this has on tuition is obvious because as a result of having so many different programs to support’ from allied health to marketing and auto mechanics - requires additional investments in facilities, equipment, resources, full-time instructional, admissions, administrative, marketing and recruitment staff. Someone has to pay for this. Why not the federal government with students as the resource, or better yet, the pawns.

Recruiting Practices - There was a federal sting operation where on many government dependent school campuses, recruiters were caught guaranteeing employment or above-average entry-level salaries students can make upon graduation (both illegal and unscrupulous practices). Because hundreds of campuses were involved in these deceptive practices, the federal government imposed new school “Gainful Employment”regulations which has forced many multi-million dollar earner campuses to go out of business - no more financial aid, no ability to survive. Le Cordon Bleu in the U.S. closed all 16 campuses shortly after the new laws took affect. Le Cordon Bleu recruiters, the premier culinary arts school worldwide were caught telling students that they will make over $50,000 per year as a chef when they graduate. While this is true after some years of experience and working your way up the ladder, it certainly isn’t so for a new graduate who paid $32,000 tuition (in loans mostly) and will most likely start as a line cook at $9 to $12 per hour. A far cry from $50,000.

Low Graduation rates- the average graduation rate at most 9-month proprietary schools is a horrid 42%. Why you ask? Because the average student gets bored, and they become financially incapable of continuing their studies. Career schools traditionally target low income workers, or career changing adult students. Most have family obligations and sitting in a classroom or mock lab five days per week for almost a year becomes more of a hindrance than an exciting career transition. A quarter of the way through they are itching to get out and work in their new career field, yet see the months of training that still lie ahead as an eternity. And eventually drop out.

Adult students respond best to intensive, hands on training that they can complete quickly. They stay engaged, interested, and know that they will be out working as a dental assistant, or medical assistant, for example, in just 3 short months. They will also graduate almost debt-free. This has been MCP’s unique selling proposition - “Get In, Get Out, Get paid”. There is no reason it should take 9 months and $18,000 to learn to become an effective, functional dental assistant.

Outcomes Based Education- The Right Path to Career School Success.

Before we get into some of the details that revolve around OBE, let me outline what the attributes of outcome based education are:

  • Result oriented - 98% graduation rate metric, 94% employment rate metric, 98% school and program satisfaction rate metric,

  • Objective based for the specific course-building and offering of knowledge assets based on skills development need in the industry and augmented with real patient (or real job) experience to enhance knowledge and confidence levels,

  • Resource skill level focused - the right demos, the right equipment, the right materials, the right facilities,

  • Built on specific implementation goals - proper instructional delivery training with ancillary lab manuals and lesson plans with proven training protocols,

  • Quantitative and measurable - each class (daily quizzes), each lab (skills checklists), each clinical (Clinical Record Record of Experience), each externship site (competency skills sheet), gets measured and documented,

  • outcome based programs are designed from the bottom up - looking at the challenges, roles, labs, and projects, and embedding into the lesson plans,

  • Mixed mode learning – formal, social , On-the-Job.

Unfortunately for them, OBE does not fit into the big box campuses’ business model, which leaves a wide-open landscape for small, job-based training companies such as MCP driven schools, to greatly benefit from. Outcomes is what produces students who feel they are getting value, and affordable, accessible tuition drives fast returns on their education investment (EROI). This drives further enrollments over time, as well as local training contracts with area dentists who need their current staff trained in a more formal learning environment.

OBE learning is possible at MCP driven schools because there is no major investment in facilities, dental equipment, or large large educational and compliance staff to maintain. Campus operations are very turnkey, so there’s also no investment in curriculum development allowing our school partners to become very competitive at the outset through lower tuitions for job-based training, including access to real-patient experiences.

Intensive, hands-on Curriculum:

If career school campuses focused more on making sure all the components of an intensified curriculum are in place, and they become student-centric, rather profit-centric, they will experience 98%+ graduation rates. This is an outcome.

Keeping students engaged by taking out “fluff and filler” courses that are not directly attributable to the job training (humanities General Education requirement for instance), and provide students with engaging hands-on content is key. Why? because more students graduate, adding to the positive reputation of the school, and, students become brand ambassadors and influencers talking positively about the great time and how much they learned and benefitted from attending the particular campus.

Type of Training Offered:

If the program is in a high-demand occupation, as it is with dental assisting, where dentists all over the U.S. are struggling to hire and keep well-trained staff, then the probability of students getting jobs after they graduate is very high, assuming the curriculum is a competency based one such as MCP’s dental assisting courses. The dental industry itself requires the assistance of key staff members such a dental assistants to assure a quality patient experience, and prevent common problems plaguing practices in general such as bad local reviews, cancellations, and no-shows. While each industry is different, they all have certain staffing problems to some extent, but the demand for trained workers does vary greatly. Those that are in high-demand for workers, are the best job-based programs to offer.

Work-Based learning is the Best learning:

Real facilities, real equipment, training under real people now working in the industry with the latest information and trends, and with real patient or clients produces a better trained and vested student. Learning in a real environment forces students to feel as if they are already working in the field, under a mentor/instructor, teaching them the ropes. This results in real-time engagement rather than ‘death by boredom’ sitting in a powerpoint presentation on a daily basis for months on end.

Quality programs standardize progress checks:

Keeping up with student progress is very critical to improve areas of deficit or struggle the student is experiencing but may be too embarrassed to seek additional help with. The larger campuses have a historically poor customer service function because it costs additional time and money; something they are keen to keep so as to fatten the bottom line. Mid-terms halfway through the program (week 6 for MCP) allows instructors to gauge the knowledge progress of students which may not be evident during labs and clinical components leading to much better outcomes for students. Final exams typically found in larger proprietary schools tend to be mostly theoretical in nature, which does not measure student practical skills proficiencies. Therefore, it is imperative to produce a much better prepared student (program outcome), that at least 6 lab stations be set-up whereby each student student progresses through individually with the instructor, in addition to the usual comprehensive theoretical final exam.

Small class sizes:

OBE is best served when there is a maximum of 15:1 student to instructor ratio. It’s tough trying to keep up with a classroom of 40 to 50 students (less so in a lab situation where its very difficult to make skills corrections as they occur because there are way too many students). The instructional quality goes up, and so does information retention since there is ample time to answer questions from a small class.

Recognized certifications:

Oftentimes, schools fail to research job ads to determine the specific skill sets and certifications that are important to prospective employers. For example, over the years, MCP has realized that in addition to speaking with dentists nationwide to determine skill sets they want to see in a new dental assistant, that the help wanted ads in various mediums mostly value CPR and Radiology certification; whether required by the state dental board or not. So we built a strong radiology component into our curriculum that requires (and included in tuition) DANB Radiation Health and Safety national certification, along with CPR and any other state required training prior to state registration as a dental assistant. Most other programs we’ve seen do not consider this as a component of their curriculum and leave it to the student to obtain on their own. This may result in unaware student trying to obtain a post-graduation position only to realize they are still not adequately prepared for employment, even though they completed a long (or short) formal training program. This not a very good outcome.

Externships leads to Jobs:

For bigger campuses, externships seem to be an after thought. I can’t tell you how many times I see these campuses advertise externships, yet make students find their own sites. Their idea of externship placement is giving the students a recommendation letter and assistance with building a resume. externships should be considered an important extension to programmatic curriculums because it brings the classroom and labs together, as well as the real work experience. Schools that are outcome focused know that a great majority of graduates who perform well (which is a function of how effective your OBE curriculum is), tend to be offered positions, which leads to even more student satisfaction with your school and program in general. Most state boards now require campuses to state the annual completer and placement rates. The higher the outcomes, the better for even more future enrollments.

By focusing on student outcomes MCP partner schools can bridge the gap between their challenges and regulatory changes. This is the key to achieving long-term school and student success.