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dental hygiene class

Foothill College Graduates First to Earn Bachelor's Degrees

Dental hygiene program is part of pilot allowing community colleges to award baccalaureates

Foothill College will celebrate an historic event June 29 when its first graduates will receive bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene. Foothill is one of 15 colleges throughout the state participating in a ground-breaking pilot program that allows community colleges to confer baccalaureate degrees in technical career fields to meet regional workforce needs.

“We are so proud of this inaugural class,” said Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen. “They have distinguished themselves academically in an extremely rigorous program and demonstrated great service leadership by providing care to patients and educating children and parents about the importance of good dental hygiene, locally and globally.”

Foothill’s first cohort of graduates will enter the Bay Area job market with bachelor of science degrees in dental hygiene at a time of strong employer demand, said Phyllis Spragge, program director. The average pay for a dental hygienist in California was $97,527 a year in 2017, according to the California Employment Development Department.

All students in the graduating class achieved a 100 percent pass rate on the Dental Hygiene National Board Exam, continuing a record started by Foothill’s first dental hygiene graduates in 1966. They will become registered dental hygienists (RDH) after they pass the California Law and Ethics Examination and a clinical examination administered in July.

The 23 members of Foothill’s first baccalaureate class include 15 students who are fluent a language other than English and seven who are the first in their family to attend college. Lydia Daniel, a first-generation college student, succeeded in the program while raising three children under the age of 5 and is one of two students selected to speak June 29 at the college-wide commencement ceremony.

The students will gather with their families for their own graduation celebration shortly before the commencement ceremony begins. State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), who has carried legislation to expand the baccalaureate pilot program and extend its sunset date, will give the closing remarks at the dental hygiene ceremony.

Foothill’s dental hygiene students are among nearly 140 students statewide who are graduating this year with bachelor’s degrees under the pilot program, which offers place-bound students a chance to attain a baccalaureate degree in a technical career field close to home at an affordable price.

Without Foothill’s baccalaureate program, students seeking a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene would have to leave the area to attend one of the four or five programs at private and for-profit universities with tuition ranging from $40,000 to $70,000 a year. The total tuition cost for a California community college baccalaureate earned in four years is $10,560.

In addition to classroom studies, each student in the baccalaureate cohort has logged 1,260 hours of clinical experience by the time they graduate. They treat patients in Foothill’s Dental Hygiene Clinic and gain additional experience volunteering in community-based dental clinics.

The 23 students have provided dental care to 516 community residents who lack dental insurance as part of a Friday community service rotation in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. They also delivered oral health education at 38 off-campus sites including local elementary schools, special needs centers, senior centers and preschools.  Eight of the students traveled last summer to rural areas of Panama where they provided dental care to underserved families and oral hygiene education to children as part of the Foothill College Medical/Dental Brigade.

Since the off-campus community service rotations began in 2002, Foothill College dental hygiene students have provided dental care to 7,352 low-income community residents who otherwise would not have received it.

As part of the pilot baccalaureate program, the college launched a separate completion track this year for  licensed dental hygienists with an associate degree to earn a bachelor’s degree. Forty students were admitted to Foothill’s first completion class and new students can enter the program at the start of every quarter.  

Spragge noted that a dental hygienist with bachelor’s degree enjoys expanded career opportunities and can move from a dental office into fields including education, public health, research and corporate/industry jobs.

Confirming its status as one of the top programs in the state, the California Community College Chancellor’s office recently awarded the Foothill College Dental Hygiene Program three Strong Workforce Gold Star Awards for increasing students’ earnings, helping students attain a regional living wage, and successfully preparing students for employment in their field.