Foothill College is aiming to become one of the first 15 community colleges in California to offer its students a low-cost bachelor’s degree after the passage of a new bill that took effect on Jan. 1.
This new bill, which was signed into law in September 2014, will allow 15 community colleges to launch a bachelor’s degree program in one, specific vocational field.
In order to prevent competition, the bill requires that the 15 community colleges offer four-year programs in fields which are not already provided by California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) campuses.
One of Foothill’s main goals is to give underprivileged Californians access to a four-year, higher education at a more affordable cost than programs offered at other universities, according to Foothill Director of Marketing and Public Relations Andrea Hanstein. Experts estimate that the tuition of a bachelor’s degree offered at a community college will total to approximately $10,000, roughly half of the cost of enrolling at a CSU campus and one-fifth of the cost of attending a UC school.
“Community colleges were founded on the premise that everyone deserves an opportunity for education,” Hanstein said on Palo Alto Online. “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.”
Thirty-six community colleges, which constitutes half of the community college system in California, submitted applications last December and are currently in the running alongside Foothill College to launch a four-year degree program.
Foothill, one of seven Bay Area colleges vying to be among the first in California to offer a bachelor’s degree, has chosen dental hygiene as the degree program it will offer to students if it is included in the list of winners to be announced in January of this year.
“Our program directors studied employment trends [in the area of dental hygiene] and the data is positive,” Hanstein said. “Even now, over 90 [percent] of our graduates are employed shortly after program completion in well-paying hygienist jobs.”
The program to offer bachelor’s degrees in California community colleges also aims to meet the demand for a more highly-educated workforce, expanding higher education to a greater number of people and therefore benefitting not only students enrolled in these programs but also California’s economy and workforce. In the next decade, this new community college program aims to satisfy the demand for one million new workers, constituting approximately 40 percent of California’s workforce.
“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,” California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office said in a release. “Community colleges are an efficient and economical way to help meet those needs due to their numerous locations throughout the state and modest tuition.”
Sophomore Anmol Nagar is optimistic about Foothill’s future in helping more students obtain a higher education degree.
“It’s not okay for someone’s range of education to be restricted based on [his or her] income, and I think that Foothill’s choosing to offer this degree will encourage young adults to reach their full potential when they enter the workforce,” Nagar said.
While Foothill currently offers a two-year dental hygiene program for an associate degree, the demand for its program is extremely high, and Foothill is currently only able to admit 24 students despite an average of 100 students applying each year, according to Dental Hygiene Program Director Phyllis Spragge.
With the addition of a 4-year program, Foothill predicts that it will be able to significantly expand the available seats and scope of its dental hygiene program as well as allow the community college to give its students a direct path to a bachelor’s degree instead of having them spend excess time and money by first receiving an associate degree and then attending a private university.
“Currently, only three schools in California offer a bachelor’s in dental hygiene, and they are all expensive, private institutions,” Hanstein said. “If we can offer the same degree, we will allow greater access to a program that many [would not be able to] afford. Community colleges provide access to higher education to people who can’t always get that access elsewhere. This would allow us to better serve our local residents.”
As California will soon join the 21 states that already allow their community colleges to offer four-year degrees, Hanstein believes that this is a necessary step forward for California to take.
“Many other states in the country already [allow] their community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, so I hope this is the first step towards even greater access for California community colleges,” Hanstein said.