The Role of Enrichment Programs in Strengthening the Academic Pipeline to Dental Education

Academic enrichment programs increase the diversity of students who seek and gain admission to dental schools. Programs, however, must be mindful of legal challenges, according to this article in a supplement to the Journal of Dental Education.

Since the early 1960s, academic enrichment programs have prepared underrepresented minority (URM) and disadvantaged students for health profession education. But these programs have come under legal scrutiny. This article reviews and provides case studies of academic enrichment programs at dental schools.

Key Findings:

  • While academic enrichment programs are legally permissible, programs must comply with federal and state requirements, particularly with regard to selection and admission processes. Furthermore, program designs must be flexible to adapt to likely future legal and policy challenges.
  • A variety of enrichment programs should be offered to meet the differing needs of various student groups. For example, summer enrichment programs have been very successful in preparing current college students for the admission process; post-baccalaureate programs admit educationally or economically disadvantaged college graduates, including non-science majors, who are interested in caring for underserved populations; and summer pre-enrollment programs allow prospective students to demonstrate their academic abilities and then, if successful, immediately continue in dental school during the fall term.
  • To be effective, these programs must address both the academic and social needs of URM students. Major program elements should include: science academic enrichment; dental career development; learning skills orientation; clinical experiences; and financial planning assistance.

Academic enrichment programs are known methods to increase the diversity of dental school students and improve future care to underserved communities but, as demonstrated by the case studies, each school must craft strategies that best fit its unique circumstances.