Community January 29, 2015

Los Altos Hills’ Foothill College to Offer 4-Year Degree

Published on Wednesday, 28 January 2015 00:07
Written by Traci Newell – Staff Writer/

Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda M. Thor chose a serendipitous time for her biannual teeth cleaning last week.

Sitting in the dentist’s chair, her dental hygienist – a graduate of the Foothill College program – peppered her with questions about the recent announcement that the community college plans to offer a four-year baccalaureate degree for its dental hygiene students.

For the first time in its 57-year history, Foothill College, located in Los Altos Hills, will award bachelor’s degrees to dental hygiene students who complete the state’s new limited baccalaureate degree pilot program. The California Community Colleges Board of Governors selected the Foothill program from among 36 statewide proposals.

“Ultimately this should help us move the needle on the number of baccalaureate degrees we award in California,” Thor said. “It’s a historic change. We need to think about educational institutions in what they do really well – and what community colleges do really well is workforce development.”

California offers no baccalaureate degree-level dental hygiene programs at its UC or CSU campuses. The only baccalaureate programs in the state are at private universities, including 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 ($31 per quarter unit at Foothill and De Anza colleges) but lower than CSU or UC fees. Lower-division coursework will cost approximately $46 per unit and upper-division coursework will run roughly $84 per unit, with an estimated total cost of $10,000 to complete a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.

Making history

“We’re making history,” said Foothill College Dental Hygiene Program Director Phyllis Spragge, RDH, M.A., in a release.

Spragge, herself an alumna of Foothill’s dental hygiene program, said they are “thrilled” that Foothill students will have the opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree at a reasonable cost from one of the country’s “most highly respected” dental hygiene programs.

“We’re also performing a tremendous service to our community by improving the high quality of dental hygiene care in California,” she added.

The pilot program is the result of California Senate Bill 850, authored by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown Sept. 28. The new law permits 15 community college districts – including the Foothill-De Anza district – to develop and offer a baccalaureate degree program at one of their colleges in a field of study not offered by a CSU or UC.

“SB 850 is a game-changer for California students,” Block said in a release. “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.”

Selecting the degree program

Thor said one of the reasons Foothill selected dental hygiene for the pilot program is that given the dental hygiene program’s prerequisites, transitioning from the current associate degree to a baccalaureate degree would not require much additional coursework.

District officials originally had three programs to propose for four-year degrees, but the state would only accept one program per campus.

“I really felt like SB 850 and the state’s Chancellor’s Office forced me into Sophie’s Choice,” Thor said. “I had to choose among my children.”

Thor said the dental hygiene program’s successful 50-year history, including a 100 percent pass rate on the dental hygiene national board examination, is among the reasons the program was an obvious choice for the baccalaureate pilot program.

The district did its homework in preparing for the pilot program application, with officials gathering support from neighboring community colleges that offer dental hygiene programs.

“They had done the work analysis and had the support,” Thor said of district officials. “And it seemed the program could meet the very short timelines we were given to get the proposals.”

Spragge said Foothill’s dental hygiene program was selected for the statewide pilot program based on its academic rigor, 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.

Curriculum details

In addition to launching the four-year degree for students in fall 2016, Foothill will offer a completion program for students who have already earned dental hygiene associate degrees.

Spragge explained to the Town Crier that the difference between the associate degree and the baccalaureate is four courses – two additional general education courses, a research course and a capstone course.

“We are really thrilled to have this opportunity to develop the program into a bachelor’s program,” she said. “In reality (associate degree students) are doing most of this work already, there is just a minimal amount they need to accomplish the (baccalaureate standards).”

Thor said American Dental Hygienist Association officials are on record saying that in the future, they would like to require that all dental hygienists earn a baccalaureate degree.

“Many allied health careers are becoming more complex,” Spragge said. “I don’t think the average person in the public understands the level of knowledge a dental hygienist has to have.”

Spragge said the degree opens doors to students in several ways, including being able to further their careers in education, research or sales and marketing.

Looking ahead

Spragge and her colleagues in the dental hygiene program at Foothill have a long road ahead of them, but they look forward to welcoming their first students in the fall of 2016.

Spragge said Foothill would work closely with the state’s Chancellor’s Office while creating the curriculum for the bachelor’s program to ensure that the college meets all the requirements for the pilot program.

Once designed, the curriculum must be approved by Foothill and the state’s Chancellor’s Office. Foothill also must collaborate with the dental hygiene program’s accreditation agencies – the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the Commission on Dental Accreditation – to secure approval for the baccalaureate program.