When Kathy Foltner, AuD ‘02
, was in school, she was fortunate enough to have four years of private high school and four years of college paid for by her mother. When it came time for her master’s degree, her mother was supportive of the effort, but told Foltner “you need to figure out how to pay for it because I’m done paying for school.”
Fortunately, Dr. Foltner was an exceptional student, and she landed an academic scholarship to Michigan State University.
“I truly experienced the value of scholarships first-hand,” said Dr. Foltner. “Because of my mother and the fact that I got a scholarship and a stipend, I entered the work force without any debt, which today is almost unheard of. Today, to be an audiologist and earn an AuD is so costly. It requires such a large financial commitment.”
Now, Dr. Foltner is eager to ease that burden and pay it forward to help future audiologists through an endowed scholarship for students in the University’s Osborne College of Audiology (OCA).
“As I thought more about it, audiology was very good to me during my 40-year career, and my legacy scholarship is a way to continually give back to the profession even long after I’m gone,” she said. “I personally chose to set things up to financially support the best and the brightest with the thought that would most help our profession and the hearing impaired.”
Dr. Foltner was among the first students to graduate from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry’s (PCO) School of Audiology program soon after it was founded by George S. Osborne in 2000. In fact, Dr. Foltner was a colleague of Dr. Osborne and the two knew each other before she entered the PCO Audiology program. Both had private practices and both were active within their professional communities at the time. Dr. Osborne had sold his private practice to Hearing Health Services, a company to which Dr. Foltner would eventually sell her private practice to as well.
Dr. Foltner had earned her master’s degree in 1976, which at the time was all one needed to be an audiologist. In the late 1990s, the profession was transitioning, and audiologists new to the field would need to acquire an AuD degree to become licensed to practice.
“I knew George long before the AuD was the minimum required degree and before he started to develop PCO’s Audiology program,” said Dr. Foltner. “When everything was set up and transitioning, I was working full-time, so I had no interest in going to a residential program. But I knew anything that George was working with would be very good and I really liked the subject class offerings.”
She said that one of the most amazing things about Dr. Osborne during that time was that he was both an audiologist and a dentist, had a successful private practice and he approached audiology from a business standpoint.
“He was doing things back then that only a very small group of us were doing. When you talk to audiologists of my generation, in the early 1980s, there was no help available from any professional organization about how to be in private practice or how to run a business,” said Dr. Foltner. “We just had a vision of creating a national way of practicing audiology. That’s what we set out to do.”
Dr. Foltner did teach practice management at OCA for seven years before her retirement in 2017. She also currently serves on the OCA advisory board.
Since then, she has retired, moved from Chicago to just outside Nashville, Tennessee, and has seen a lot of the world, traveling more than 45,000 miles and visiting nearly 20 countries.
She believes educational debt in our society today is out of control and it’s going to impact the lives of students for a long time. And, the profession of audiology is facing challenges moving forward.
“If I were to say anything to my colleagues or people who might be thinking about doing something like this, I’d say you can leave a small percent of your assets to a university to literally change people’s lives and not negatively impact your loved ones in terms of how much money they’re going to have,” said Dr. Foltner. “I decided that I wouldn’t be where I am today financially if it weren’t for audiology, so why not give back to the people who are trying to enter the field and improve the lives of others through better hearing.”