Foothill launches 4-year baccalaureate program

Megan V, Winslow/Town Crier
Foothill College dental hygiene students, from left, Ha Thai, Tien Nguyen and Ashly Davis discuss patient medical history.

Foothill College dental hygiene students can smile brighter now that the college officially offers a Bachelor of Science degree in the discipline.

Foothill’s dental hygiene program last year was named one of 15 community college programs with the ability to award a four-year degree.

Phyllis Spragge, Foothill’s dental hygiene program director, worked for several years to design the program.

“We did a major revision of all our dental hygiene courses,” she said. “We wrote new objectives and student learning outcomes and looked at having that higher-level learning in all our courses.”

After revising the program from a two-year Associate of Science degree to a Bachelor of Science, Foothill secured approval from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The new program has a longer list of prerequisites, mirroring the UC and CSU level of general-education requirements.

Twenty-four students who qualified for the program started school last month and will graduate with a four-year degree in 2018.

Reduced cost

Senate Bill 850, signed into law in 2014, enabled Foothill to offer the degree. The law permits 15 community college districts – including the Foothill-De Anza Community College District – to develop and offer a baccalaureate degree program at one of their colleges in a field of study not offered by the UC or CSU system.

The only baccalaureate programs in dental hygiene in the state are at private universities – University of the Pacific in Stockton, Loma Linda University, West Coast University in Irvine and USC. Tuition at the private institutions ranges from $43,000 to $70,000 per year.

The tuition for the pilot community college baccalaureate degree program will be higher than the usual community college fees but lower than CSU or UC fees. The estimated total cost is $20,000 for the four-year program, according to Spragge. With additional funding from the state, Foothill offers financial aid to students in the program.

One of the biggest benefits for students is that a Bachelor of Science degree offers a wider array of career choices, Spragge said. Students who graduated with an associate degree could enter the dental field right away, but a bachelor’s degree enables students to teach dental hygiene or pursue work in sales, marketing, research or public health.

According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, SB850 was enacted to assist the state in meeting the need for individuals in high-demand technical disciplines that are increasingly requiring baccalaureate degrees and to increase college participation rates and improve workforce-training opportunities for local residents who are unable to relocate. Further impetus for the pilot program comes from studies that show that California must produce 1 million more baccalaureate-degree earners by 2025 to remain economically competitive. Twenty-one other states permit community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees.

Spragge said she hopes the Foothill program will pave the way for more community college baccalaureate programs.

“Health care in general has gotten so complex, most health-care professions are looking at higher levels of education and higher-level degrees as the entry level into the profession,” she said. “Long term, I would love to see that many allied health programs in the community college system could provide bachelor’s degrees.”

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