Twenty-three Foothill College graduates walked away with something new June 29: a bachelor’s degree.
The inaugural class earned dental hygiene degrees as part of a pilot initiative that allowed 15 community colleges in the state to develop baccalaureate programs for technical degrees in 2014. Four years later, the first graduates are ready to enter the workforce with a degree that will give them flexibility in their careers, according to Phyllis Spragge, program director. Graduates with an associate degree can work as dental hygienists, but they can’t move on to other related jobs.
“If you wanted to teach, or if you wanted to apply to be a dental hygienist at the VA, or if you wanted to work as a public health dental hygienist, you have to have a bachelor’s,” Spragge said.
By earning that bachelor’s at a community college, the graduates saved quite a bit of money. Before the program, no public colleges in California offered students the opportunity to complete a bachelor’s in dental hygiene, so they had to attend one of five private colleges in the state, which can cost 10 times as much as a community college. Now, through the pilot college in Southern California offer the degree. The Foothill baccalaureate program costs approximately $10,000 total, whereas the dental hygiene program at USC costs $132,634.
The first baccalaureate cohort at Foothill was a diverse one: Among the 23 graduates, there were 15 languages spoken, seven were the first in their families to attend college and eight received federal financial aid. Spragge said the students became “extremely, extremely close” through the 2,634 hours of class time, clinics, labs and volunteer work she estimated that each student put in.
The community college baccalaureate program was created to meet workforce demands for skilled workers, encourage underrepresented students to earn bachelor’s degrees and cut down on student and taxpayer cost. The degree is still a pilot program, but a bill to extend it until 2028 is working its way through the State Legislature and has passed the State Senate 38-2.
All of Foothill’s dental hygiene baccalaureate graduates initially plan to work as dental hygienists, and many of them hope eventually to attend graduate school, teach or pursue international humanitarian work or public health positions.
For more information, visit foothill.edu/dentalhygiene.