The admissions climate in dental education encountered some turbulence in the 1980s. Applicants at dental schools throughout the U.S. dipped from 15,734 to just 4,996 between 1975 and 1989; the decrease in numbers of applicants was so dramatic that even our Dallas dental college’s applicant pool was impacted.
At the time, Dr. Jack Long ’76 was a faculty member who spent his days teaching preclinical and clinical fixed prosthodontics.
“We had some challenges in U.S. dental schools,” says Long, who was selected in 1987 to serve on a committee aimed at addressing the decline in applicants at the dental school, which was then an independent, private institution known as Baylor College of Dentistry prior to its merger with the Texas A&M University System in the mid-1990s.
“Part of that was doing some things we’d never done before, like recruiting individuals from around the state,” Long explains.
While teaching and dentistry had always been a part of the plan, what came next had never crossed his mind.
“It was about meeting potential students where they were,” says Long. “We had to go to them.” Together with the associate deans from the University of Texas dental schools, they went to Amarillo, arcing their way southwest to El Paso, traversing the border. A lot of ground was covered during those years, and hundreds of college career days attended; they even went to a few high school career fairs and had conversations with parents about their students’ admission to dental school and, just as important, ways to finance that career path.
By 1992, Long’s stint on the recruitment committee had evolved into responsibility as the director of the admissions and academic records, a post he maintained until 2005, when he became associate dean for student affairs. His current post requires oversight of admissions, on-site records, grading and financial aid, coordination of disciplinary due process cases, and ensuring compliance with federal and state laws.
While his responsibilities have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: Long’s choice to forge a career at his dental school alma mater. Now, 40 years after obtaining his DDS from this very college, he offers his take on how the expectations of our dental students have shifted over the years and the priorities that now rank highest on their minds. Long, a proud University of Texas graduate, also offers us a glimpse into why he chose to stay right here at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
Dentistry Insider: How have perspectives of dental students toward their education changed from when you were a student?
Long: The students expect a lot more out of us, as far as their education. Outside of academics, they expect technology, and they expect us to be ahead of the curve in helping them achieve their goals here. That’s good. When I went to school here, there was some technology, but not like what the students have now. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with that, and the students deserve that kind of support.
Dentistry Insider: When we think about pressing issues for dental students today, what would you say is top of mind among the vast majority of our students, and dental students throughout the U.S., as well?
Long: The primary concern of students is getting through the curriculum and obtaining the credentials so that they can go out and do what they planned on doing, helping individuals maintain their oral health and, in the process, contributing to their patients’ total health. As for issues that impact them right now, student financial aid debt is always on their minds; it’s constantly there.
Dentistry Insider: You must enjoy working here, as you have remained involved on campus, in some form or fashion, for your entire career. To put it in perspective, you and your dental school classmates just celebrated your 40-year reunion. Why have you chosen to invest your professional efforts here?
Long: You couldn’t be in a better place in a better school. I liked all the people here when I was a student. I liked all the professors, and I visited with them often. It’s been a very good experience, and I can’t for the life of me think of anybody that I didn’t like or enjoy here. It’s always been that way. It’s just a great environment, and the students bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the College of Dentistry. It is a privilege to help them achieve their goals.