Foothill College vying to offer new, affordable four-year degree

Community college chancellor will select 15 schools to pilot program

Foothill College is in the running to become one of the first California community colleges to offer a four-year bachelor's degree as the result of a bill that took effect Jan. 1.

The bill, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in September, allows up to 15 community colleges to offer one baccalaureate degree in select vocational fields, as long as they meet a local workforce need and don't compete with or duplicate any programs already offered at University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campuses. In today's world of increasingly expensive college degrees -- for some prohibitively so — the bill aims to give more Californians access to higher education, and at a more affordable price.

Thirty-six community college districts, half of the entire state system, submitted applications in December for a range of career-focused degree programs, from Foothill's dental hygiene to public safety, respiratory therapy, engineering technology and emergency services. Foothill chose dental hygiene after analyzing their own program and broader industry trends, said Andrea Hanstein, Foothill director of marketing and public relations.

Currently, only three private universities in California offer a four-year dental hygiene degree: the University of Pacific in Stockton, Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California. Annual tuition at those schools range from $40,000 to $48,000, Hanstein said, and Foothill's program would cost approximately $10,500 per year.

"Community colleges were founded on the premise that everyone deserves an opportunity for education," Hanstein said. "To be able to have a program where we can increase the number of seats because we would be able to increase the number of students enrolled and then get them out there and employed – that's our mission in a nutshell."

Hanstein added that although the technical requirement to become a dental hygienist is a two-year degree, the American Dental Association (which endorsed Foothill's application) has indicated it's moving toward having a bachelor's degree as the minimum entry-level requirement.

Foothill's dental hygiene program is also extremely popular, with an average of about 100 students applying each year for the 24 spots available, said Dental Hygiene Program Director Phyllis Spragge.

Foothill's students also often graduate with an excess of units — much more than the associate's degree they earn requires, Spragge said.

"My students have to take the same board exams as students who graduate from the four-year dental hygiene programs," she said, "so the scope of knowledge has to be equivalent, but the degree is not."

Only one other state community college district applied for a dental hygiene program (State Center Community College District in Fresno), but Hanstein said Foothill was told that in theory, both could be selected since the two schools are located in very different markets. Spragge also worked with the four other Bay Area community colleges that currently offer a two-year dental hygiene degree so Foothill would be the only one in the region applying for the expanded program. These four schools — Santa Rosa Junior College, Diablo Valley College, Chabot College and Cabrillo College — are also interested in aligning their curriculum with Foothill's if it is selected as a pilot campus.

"Even though we only take 24 students a year, we're looking at this bachelor degree program to be larger in number and in scope," Spragge said.

Members of the California Community College Chancellor's Office staff, a member of the business and workforce community, representatives from CSU, UC and community college administrators, faculty, and staff from districts that did not apply to host a program are reviewing the applications and will make a recommendation to the system's board of governors before their Jan. 20 meeting.

The board is expected to announce the 15 pilot colleges on Jan. 21. Considerations for selecting a district included geographic distribution of the pilot programs, diversity of pilot programs, ability of the district to establish a rigorous program in their proposed field and that the proposed program will meet an unaddressed local or statewide workforce need, according to a November press release from the Chancellor's Office. Selected programs will also be accredited by Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

The legislation sunsets after the 2022-23 school year, after which the legislature and governor may renew it pending two reviews of the pilot program, one in 2018 and another in 2022, according to the Chancellor's Office.

Selected districts can start their programs as soon as this fall, or must offer the degree by the 2017-18 academic year. Hanstein said that Foothill's program, if selected, would likely begin in the fall of 2016. Though Foothill applied as the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, it would only be offered at Foothill's Los Altos campus. Foothill also requested as part of its application that graduates of its two-year dental hygiene program would be allowed to return to earn a four-year bachelor's degree.

California is joining the 21 states that already allow their community colleges to offer four-year degrees. The state's Chancellor's Office said in the November release that "Further impetus for the measure comes from studies which show that California needs to produce 1 million more baccalaureate degree earners by 2025 to remain economically competitive in the coming decades. Community colleges are an efficient and economical way to help meet those needs due to their numerous locations throughout the state and modest tuition."

Locally, this new offering would allow Foothill to finally match the degree it awards dental hygiene students to the work they do, Spragge said. There are bachelor's completion programs that students who graduate with an associate degree can pursue, but that adds on further costs, both in time and money.

"It's not that there is no alternative, but in some ways it's an issue of fairness," Spragge said. "It's a degree that matches the level of preparation and work that they've done."

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1 person likes this
Posted by Jozie
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2015 at 10:42 am

UC was SUPPOSED to be a low-cost four year college option. My total UC fees (no tuition) in 1972 were $128 per quarter!

How things have changed, and not for the better for our students.

1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2015 at 11:02 am

@Jozie - 1972 was a long time ago. Ivy League tuition was only $2000 in the early 1970s. The number of kids going to college is a lot higher now and we need more options to educate our kids.

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm

> Hanstein added that although the technical requirement to become a dental hygienist
> is a two-year degree, the American Dental Association (which endorsed Foothill's
> application) has indicated it's moving toward having a bachelor's degree
> as the minimum entry-level requirement.

This seems like "mission creep" at its fullest. Certainly a targeted two-year program for a vocation like "dental hygiene" makes sense--but a BS/BA? Most four year courses involve a number of courses that often don't have anything to do with one's major course of study, but are thought to have value over the course of one's life. Such courses might include mathematics, history, language, and some sort of science.

How would any of these topics actually increase the technical skills of a "dental hygenist"? Certainly they would drive up the cost of the initial qualification, and then the salary demands for the employee, followed by increased costs for dental services that are not improved by the dental hygenist's having a BS/BA, rather than an AA and certification.

Maybe it makes sense for Community Colleges to offer a BS/BA in some areas--but dental hygiene does not seem to be a good idea.

1 person likes this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2015 at 7:37 am

Marie is a registered user.

Why hasn't this highly popular program already been expanded (24 students accepted out of 100 applying). If there is an unfilled demand for dental technicians, why can't the two year program be expanded as well? One way to stop highly predatory private schools who get federal funding to charge high tuition to desperate students, often for inadequate programs with poor placement programs, is to expand successful junior college programs. However, I would like to see lower tuition. Are community colleges really charging over $300 per credit hour (10k/30)?

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