ADVANCED DEGREES ARE OFTEN PROMOTED to dental hygienists for a variety of reasons. But an advanced degree doesn't always translate into more income—although it sometimes does. Read more, and check out our exclusive infographic, below.
Nationally, dental hygienists earn $40 an hour, regardless of what degrees they hold, according to the 2017 RDH eVillage Annual Salary Survey. Dental hygiene leaders frequently point to a need for members of the profession to obtain a bachelor’s degree, or even suggest furthering education with a master’s degree.
Income, though, is not typically promoted as a benefit of expanding on the education earned through an associate’s degree. (62% of the survey respondents indicated that an associate’s degree was the “highest level of career-related education achieved.”) Generally, the profession’s leadership touts the benefits of additional degrees as increasing the stature of the profession in the eyes of consumers, as well as local and state politicians.
In addition, many of the lower degrees programs were launched to meet a rosy job forecast for the dental hygiene profession. One of the harshest comments from a survey respondent from Arizona who said, “There is a huge glut of very disappointed, unemployed, young hygienists in deep debt due to the unethical and greedy nature of private schools opening unneeded programs.”
A California hygienist with a bachelor’s degree added, “I wish the new grads would stop taking these ridiculously low paying jobs. They are hurting our profession. I recently saw an ad for $250 per day! I made that right out of school 24 years ago. The dental assistants I work with make almost that!”
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The responses from the 18 states mentioned in the two charts with this article represent 68% of the total responses. Although most hourly rates are similar between the two education levels, there were some discrepancies, most notably the $11 an hour difference in Georgia.
One question on the survey asked respondents to “estimate” final 2017 annual income as a “dental hygienist.” Dental hygienists often seek advanced degrees to broaden their careers outside of the traditional operatory setting. The question did not ask respondents to report estimated annual income from all jobs. Hygienists with higher education levels in Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, and Massachusetts, for example, reported less annual income as a dental hygienist.
Regardless, notice the minimum of $30,000 difference between California dental hygienists with an associate’s degree and those with a bachelor’s or higher degree. The difference in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is $10,000.
So, there is some evidence that, even though hourly rates are similar, hygienists with a bachelor’s degree are less likely to be treated as a “part-time” employee, earning more income over the course of the year.
Overall, though, it is easy to understand why some dental hygienists view degree completion or a master’s degree to be inconsequential in terms of earning more income.
Several articles are being prepared based on this survey initiated by PennWell Corp. If a hygienist has not participated in the survey, they can still do so by clicking here.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in RDH eVillage. Click here to subscribe.