Phi Beta Cons

A Costly Non-Solution to a Non-Problem

In today’s Pope Center piece, Duke Cheston criticizes the decision to build a new dental school at East Carolina University. The key justification for the decision is that areas of the state are supposedly “underserved” by dentists. There are a few counties with no practicing dentists at all! State politicians to the rescue!

The troubles with this notion, Cheston shows, are several. First, county borders don’t matter to people, and it’s easy to get to a dentist if you want to. Using some nifty Google research, Cheston finds that the most time anyone in a county without a dentist would have to drive to get to one is 54 minutes. The argument that the state faces a problem because a few people have to spend somewhat more time than most to get to a dentist when they need to is far-fetched.

Just as far-fetched is the idea that putting a new dental school in Greenville (closer to those rural counties with few or no dentists than is Chapel Hill) will somehow solve this alleged problem. A student who graduates from a dental school, even one located near rural areas and that tries to attract students from such areas, is going to go where the demand for dentists is strongest — where the can get the best return on his investment. So what we have here is a non-solution to a non-problem. This is another case of politicians’ concocting a silly argument to justify spending money.

I’ll add one more point: There is no reason that dentists who are going to practice in North Carolina have to get their dental training within state borders. If dental licensing is a barrier to entry against those who studied in other states or countries, the state government should change the law so there is no discrimination against those who wish to enter from outside of the state.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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