By Dianne M. Cearlock, Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Swartz, IT Manager
The Annual Survey of Programs was disseminated to program directors of 613 NAACLS accredited and approved programs in late 2017. Submission of the completed survey is required annually by the accreditation and approval standards. Presented here are data indicating numbers of NAACLS accredited and approved programs and graduates, certification examination pass rates, graduation rates, and placement rates. Also included are data reflecting trends in program resources and program director turnover.
Ten (10)-year longitudinal data for the numbers of programs by program type appear in Table 1. The data reveal increases in the total number of programs from 479 accredited and 63 approved programs in 2008 to 544 accredited and 67 approved programs in 2017 and that trend is seen for all program types except Cytogenetics (CG). In terms of the percentages of total programs, the most concentrated areas of growth are seen with Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT) (16% increase from 2008-2017) and Histotechnician (HT)/Histotechnologist (HTL) (24% increase over the decade) programs. The numbers of Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) programs grew by 5%; the number of Phlebotomy (PBT) programs is essentially stable. The numbers of Diagnostic Molecular Science (DMS), Pathologists’ Assistant (PathA), and Clinical Assistant (CA) programs increased during the 10-year period but the statistical significance, if any, is difficult to determine based on the smaller numbers of programs.
Table 1– NAACLS Accredited and Approved Programs by Type from 2008-2017 (click on chart to enlarge).
Fifteen (15)-year longitudinal data for the numbers of program graduates by program type appear in Table 2. (click on chart to enlarge)
Over the 15-year period increases are seen in the numbers of graduates from most NAACLS accredited and approved program types. With the exception of CG program graduates, all program types reveal an increased number of graduates and, in some cases, the increases are striking. Increases in PathA graduates reflect an increased number of programs and also implies that this profession is rapidly expanding. Graduate numbers are highest for most program types in the years from 2010-2013 and that may have been a socioeconomic response to the recession of 2008 followed by a slow, multi-year recovery. Slower economies and sluggish job markets tend to encourage more people to pursue higher education degrees. Other factors could include administrative pressure on program officials to increase enrollments, more effective student recruitment strategies, increased demand for alternative education delivery models, and the development of innovative approaches to the provision of the clinical experiences.
On the annual survey of programs, NAACLS collects data regarding program/student outcomes and has set benchmarks for certification exam pass rates, graduation, and placement rates. The benchmarks are:
- Certification exam pass rates – Three year rolling average of 75% pass rate on BOC examinations taken within the first year after graduation. Several other examination providers are applicable for graduates of phlebotomy programs.
- Graduation rates – Three year rolling average of 70% graduation rate for students who have begun the final half of the program.
- Placement rates – Benchmark: Three year rolling average of 70% finding employment or continuing education within one year of graduation.
In Table 3 are 3-year retrospective data of average percentage rates for programs for the three benchmarked outcomes. These percentages are stable throughout the 3-year period of 2015-2017. (click on chart to enlarge)
A 3-year retrospective of the number of programs that failed to meet the benchmarks is shown in Table 4. The data suggest that certification exam pass rates remain a challenge for some programs while the great majority of students successfully graduate from programs and find relevant employment or continue with additional education. (click on chart to enlarge)
In addition to the benchmarked outcomes, NAACLS also collects data on relative changes in program class sizes, budgets, clinical placements, and faculty resources. In the Annual Survey of Programs, programs are asked to report changes from year to year for these characteristics but these are not benchmarked. NAACLS monitors these characteristics annually for trends. The data suggest quite small but positive changes in budgets, clinical placements and faculty resources for each year of the last three years and small increases for both of the last two years for class sizes. (click on chart to enlarge)
Another striking set of data gleaned from results of the Annual Survey of Programs pertains to the number of new program directors that were approved in 2017. Table 6 presents the number of newly approved program directors by program type in quarter year intervals for 2017. These data represent a large turnover in programs directors of ongoing programs as well as appointments for new programs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is at least partially a result of program faculty retiring from long held positions. High turnover increases the workload of NAACLS volunteers including self study reviewers, site visitors, review committee members, and new program director mentors as the new program directors become acclimated to these positions. Also, it challenges NAACLS to continue to provide and increase continuing education offerings for program officials covering content about standards and accreditation and approval processes. (click on chart to enlarge)
In summary, the 2017 NAACLS Annual Survey of Programs data reveal that there have been modest increases in accredited and approved programs over the past decade and significant increases in the number of graduates of most program types over the last fifteen years. For some program types, such as Medical Laboratory Technician programs, the increases are more significant. Although Pathologists’ Assistants programs are fewer in number and statistically difficult to evaluate, the increases seen for these programs suggests a rapidly expanding demand for programs and graduates of this relatively new profession. The percentages of NAACLS accredited and approved programs that have demonstrated success at meeting benchmarked outcomes including certification exam pass rates, graduation and placement rates have been stable over a 3-year period. Small increases in program class sizes, budgets, clinical placements, and faculty resources have been reported. Comparing the numbers of program graduates (Table 2) with trends in program resources (Table 5) suggests significant increase in program production of graduates without the benefit of large increases in resources. Lastly, there have been significant numbers of newly approved program directors within the last year that not only reflects increased numbers of programs but also a notable turnover in program directors of continuing programs. The numbers of new program directors creates challenges for NAACLS’ volunteers and staff to assist these new directors as they adjust to their new responsibilities. NAACLS must also provide continuing education opportunities for these and other program officials.