Foothill College is officially one of 15 community colleges in the state that, for the first time in California's history, will offer a four-year baccalaureate program.
A total of 34 colleges up and down the state were in the running to launch four-year degrees under a new bill that allows up to 15 community colleges to offer one baccalaureate degree in select vocational fields, as long as they meet a local workforce demand and don't compete with or duplicate any programs already offered at University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campuses.
The chancellor of the California Community Colleges announced his 15 recommended selections to the system's Board of Governors Tuesday afternoon, which unanimously approved the initial list and will give its final stamp of approval in March after additional review by the Chancellor's Office, as well as further consultation with the CSU and UC systems.
Foothill's new four-year degree will be in dental hygiene, and will launch next fall with a tuition of approximately $10,500 for all four years.
"This is very historic for California," Foothill Chancellor Linda Thor told the Weekly minutes after the board's vote, "because the total cost of a bachelor's degree for students at the community college will be $10,500, and they'll be able to stay in their home community and likely not have to go into debt and receive a degree in an area of high workforce demand."
The two-year dental-hygiene degree is a popular, oversubscribed program at Foothill (an average of 100 students apply each year for about 24 available spots). Currently, only three private universities in California offer a four-year baccalaureate in the field (the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California) and all come with a significantly higher price tag.
No CSU nor UC campus offers a four-year dental hygiene degree, though four Bay Area community colleges (Santa Rosa Junior College, Diablo Valley College, Chabot College and Cabrillo College) offer two-year programs.
Foothill dental-hygiene students also often graduate with an excess of units, beyond the amount an associate's degree requires, according to Dental Hygiene Program Director Phyllis Spragge. A baccalaureate also paves the way for more breadth and depth in students' professional paths, from research to marketing to teaching.
West Los Angeles College's dental hygiene program was also selected, likely due to the differing market and workforce need in the region.
Other degree programs selected include biomanufacturing (MiraCosta College), respiratory care (Modesto Junior College), health information management (San Diego Mesa College) and respiratory therapy (Skyline College), among others.
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 and existence of an unaddressed local or statewide workforce need, according to an earlier press release from the Chancellor's Office. Selected programs will also be accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
"These colleges are embarking on a new mission for the California Community Colleges that will expand opportunities in public higher education," California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said Tuesday. "Students will have a range of programs from which to choose to earn high quality, affordable and in-demand degrees. California employers win too, as they will have improved access to highly qualified candidates in these fields."
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.
"I'm optimistic this is just the beginning of what will rapidly expand across the state to more colleges and more programs," Thor said, noting that the announcement coincides with President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight, which will include a proposal to make community college "free for everybody who is willing to work for it."