It’s official. A new bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene will soon be offered at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.
For the first time in its 57-year history, Foothill College will award bachelor’s degrees to dental hygiene students who complete the state’s new limited baccalaureate degree pilot program. Foothill was given initial approval to participate in the pilot program Jan. 20 by the 13-member California Community Colleges Board of Governors in consultation with representatives from the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems.
“This is a historic day for California, for community colleges, for employers and most importantly, for our students,” said Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda M. Thor, Ed.D. “The opportunity for local community colleges to address regional needs for highly skilled workers will benefit the local economy enormously. And the opportunity for community college students to earn an in-demand bachelor’s degree without leaving home or going into debt will enrich lives and change futures.”
The Foothill College dental hygiene program was selected for the pilot program from 36 proposals submitted by California community college districts. The proposals included a variety of career-training programs, including airframe manufacturing technology, biomanufacturing, respiratory therapy, engineering technology and public safety administration.
“We’re making history! We are thrilled that Foothill students will have the very real opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree at a reasonable cost from one of the country’s most highly respected dental hygiene programs,” said Foothill College Dental Hygiene Program Director Phyllis Spragge, RDH, M.A., who is an alumna of Foothill’s dental hygiene program. “We’re also performing a tremendous service to our community by improving the high-quality of dental hygiene care in California.”
California offers no baccalaureate degree-level dental hygiene programs at its UC or CSU campus. The only baccalaureate programs in the state are at private universities, including the University of the Pacific (Stockton), Loma Linda University (Loma Linda), West Coast University (Irvine) and USC (Los Angeles). Tuition at these private institutions ranges from $43,000–$70,000 per year. The tuition for the pilot community college baccalaureate degree program will be higher than the usual community college fees ($31 per quarter unit at Foothill and De Anza colleges), but lower than CSU or UC fees. Lower-division coursework would cost approximately $46 per unit and upper-division coursework would cost about $84 per unit, with an estimated total cost of $10,000 to complete the bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.
The pilot program is the result of Senate Bill 850 authored by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28, 2014. The new 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 CSU or UC.
“SB 850 is a game changer for California students,” Block said. “Students now have another path that can lead to a quality, affordable four-year degree. It tells employers that California is doing all it can to ensure that our state is open for business and will stay open to employers looking for highly trained employees.”
Foothill College leaders expect to offer the first dental hygiene bachelor’s degree course by Fall 2016. To start the program, Foothill College must also secure approval from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Spragge said that Foothill’s dental hygiene program was selected for the statewide pilot based on the academic rigor of the program, the number of units it requires for completion of the associate degree, the strength of the job market, and the increasing need for dental hygiene care in California.
Since its inception in 1964, the Foothill College dental hygiene program has experienced an impressive history of academic and career-training excellence. In fact, the program’s history includes a 100-percent pass-rate on the dental hygiene national board examination for the past 50 years. Students learn from experienced, caring faculty; train in state-of-the-art clinical facilities; and are supervised at all times as they work on patients during clinical experience. Students who successfully complete the intensive two-year program earn the Foothill College Associate in Science Degree in Dental Hygiene and are qualified to take the dental hygiene national board examination and the California state licensing examination. Accredited by CODA and ACCJC, the program’s curriculum includes comprehensive study of basic sciences, oral anatomy, public health, nutrition, clinical dental hygiene, periodontics, pathology and radiology.
According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the new law 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.
The California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the nation composed of 72 districts and 112 colleges serving 2.1 million students per year. Community colleges supply workforce training, basic skills education and prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions.