Where the bachelors are

Aug. 1, 1997
Enrollment in a baccalaureate program while working as a hygienist may not be such a daunting challenge after all. Several programs offer flexibility to assist you in following up your health-care associate?s degree with a bachelor?s degree.

Enrollment in a baccalaureate program while working as a hygienist may not be such a daunting challenge after all. Several programs offer flexibility to assist you in following up your health-care associate?s degree with a bachelor?s degree.

Heidi Emmerling, RDH, MA

Imagine earning a bachelor?s degree from an accredited college while you continue working. Imagine that the college gives you credit for your dental hygiene education. Imagine that the college conducts classes in your own town.

Sounds too good to be true? It isn?t.

Let?s say, for example, that you are a practicing dental hygienist with an associate in science degree. You realize, though, that a bachelor?s degree would allow you to be seen as a professional, as well as increase your scope of practice beyond clinical dental hygiene. Or you simply decide you want to pursue other paths such as teaching, research, writing, corporate work, or an entirely different field. Or let?s say you just want to earn a bachelor?s degree for personal growth and achievement. After all, pursuing and achieving a degree has its inherent intangible rewards.

Here?s the problem: When you look around, you find obstacles. First, the number of baccalaureate degree dental hygiene programs is dwindling. In her inaugural address, past ADHA president Gail Bemis announced her concern about the closure of these programs. ADHA statistics show that 10 out of the 16 dental hygiene programs that have closed since 1983 offered bachelor?s degrees. All 23 newly accredited dental hygiene programs since 1982 are associate degree programs. Out of 215 dental hygiene programs, only 25 award bachelor?s degrees.

What this means to you is that, more than likely, your dental hygiene degree is probably an associate degree. More than likely, the vast majority of future dental hygiene degrees will be associate degrees. Therefore, if you want a bachelor?s degree, you will probably have to earn it separate from your dental hygiene education.

The next obstacle is this: Associate degrees in dental hygiene often do not articulate with colleges and universities towards baccalaureate degrees. As an associate-degree dental hygienist pursuing a bachelor?s degree, you?ve probably found that, in most colleges and universities, you are given credit for only a mere fraction, if any, of your dental hygiene course work. There are only 52 degree completion programs for dental hygienists.

Traditionally, however, those colleges and universities that do accept the associate degree require you to relocate in order to finish college. Fortunately, several programs could end your search.

A common goal with other health-care students

The health arts program at the College of St. Francis [(800) 726-2600] has one of the oldest and most reputable degree-completion programs. Established in 1971 in Joliet, Ill., the program now conducts classes in more than 120 locations in 18 states, ranging from California to Florida. More sites are being developed by student demand.

All students admitted to the program are adult health-care professionals, so you have a lot in common with your classmates. The health arts program was initially designed for hospital-educated or associate-degree registered nurses. But now the program accepts dental hygienists, radiation therapists, radiologic technologists, and other qualified health-care professionals. Best of all, the college is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

You need to earn a total of 128 credit hours to qualify for a bachelor?s in health arts. The college generally applies 96 credits for your dental hygiene course work (up to 80 credits from other institutions) and work experience (up to 16 credits for two years of full-time employment or equivalent as a registered dental hygienist). According to Phyllis Thompson, the director of the health arts program, this is what distinguishes the College of St. Francis program from other programs.

If the college credits you the maximum number of credits towards the degree, you need to complete the remaining 32 credits with the college ? that?s eight classes, four credits each.

The classes are in four different categories:

* Philosophic and religious studies.

* Historical and cultural studies.

* Literary and aesthetic studies.

* Electives.

You need to complete two classes from each of the first three categories. Normally, you would complete the final two courses in the elective category, but electives are not required. Therefore, you have the option of taking the remaining two classes in any category. The students get to vote on which class will be offered each semester but, in order to ensure proper rotation of classes, the college determines the category.

In addition to the OclassroomO classes, the program offers a travel-credit option. You can take one college-sponsored trip in place of a four-credit class. Of course, there is extensive course work involved in the trip option ? the requirements equal that of a OregularO four credit classroom course.

This makes for an interesting, albeit intensive and expensive way to earn credit. In addition to the cost of tuition, you pay for travel, lodging, meals, and books. However, the students I?ve spoken with who took advantage of this option recommend it highly. For example, the annual trip to New England would allow you to visit the homes of famous authors and historical sites. This particular trip would satisfy either the historical category or the literary category. The catch? You can only take two trips for credit.

Working? No problem. Virtually all health arts students work, so all classes are conducted in the evenings. Generally, each location offers one class per semester, one night per week for three hours. Since the courses are four credits each, you earn the remaining credit through an independent research project ? usually an in-depth research paper with the instructor?s approval of topic.

Location is nearby, and the instructors are for real

The college conducts on-campus classes at their main campus in Joliet, Ill. Other sites are considered satellite sites. Diane Stigler, RDH, an active member of the Illinois Dental Hygienists? Association, cites the number of off-campus locations offered by the health arts program as one of the main attractions for her. Although she regularly attends the Donner Grove, Ill., location, she is within driving distance of two other locations, enabling her to take more classes and finish sooner.

A location already may be established near you. If not, you may want to consider establishing a new site. To do this, you need 20 potential students (19 colleagues and yourself), a suitable facility (many classes are held in hospital conference rooms) and qualified instructors (minimum qualification for teaching is a master?s degree in the area of teaching; doctorates, though, are preferred).

The college generally deals with finding the instructors. Patricia Lee Anderson, RDH, of Aptos, Calif., got some of her colleagues together and established California?s first satellite site. Almost all the students in this site are hygienists.

So this is not a correspondence or computer program, but rather a typical classroom with a bonafide, real-life instructor. Many times the instructors are the same ones who teach at your local college or university.

OAll of my instructors have been great!O Stigler says. OThey really make the experience for me.O

The local instructors mail class rosters, grade sheets, and any other pertinent paperwork from the satellite site to the main college. The primary difference between on-campus classes and off-campus satellite classes is location of the classroom. You experience the same type of academic, classroom situation as you would at a local university.

Once the college initiates a new location, it makes a commitment to offer at least 32 credits at your location, enabling you to complete all the needed course work. However, courses may cease to be available at certain locations beyond the initial sequence if there is little or no new student interest. The college does not assume responsibility for completing course work if you drop from the program.

The message: Take a class every semester until you?re done; don?t lapse. That way, you?re assured of getting your degree in eight semesters, or 21U2 years. As long as the program receives consistent new enrollment, courses will be offered indefinitely.

The convenience and flexibility come with a price. The tuition for the fall 1997 semester is $780 per four-credit course (minimum cost would be $6,240). It sounds like a lot of money at first. However, consider the cost, plus time of starting from scratch at a local university. You may pay extra in the health arts program, but the cost would come out pretty close if you were to pay for twice as many classes and doubling your work load at the local college.

If you demonstrate significant financial need, two types of scholarships are available: The Mary A. Norris scholarship and the Alumni scholarship. Both provide partial tuition grants.

You also can save money by serving as a location coordinator ? acting as a liaison between the college, the instructor, and the facility where the classes are held. Anderson serves as the location coordinator of the Santa Cruz site. She is in charge of distributing books, making provisions for audiovisual equipment, and assisting the instructor with the evaluation process. The health arts administrator appoints each class section?s location coordinator. In exchange for the services, she receives a partial tuition grant. Previous location coordinators tell me their tuition was cut in half.

As a graduate of the college, you would be entitled to audit classes at no tuition cost provided there is space available in the classroom. You don?t earn a grade with an audit and you don?t earn credit. However, as a graduate, if you would want to enroll in undergraduate courses for credit, you would be able to do so at one-half the current tuition rate.

The great news about your degree? Data from the college show that 81 percent of graduates report they have benefited professionally from the degree; 29 percent have entered graduate school or completed master?s degrees; and 97 percent express personal satisfaction and growth as a result of earning the degree.

If you want to pursue graduate studies, you would be interested to learn that more than 95 colleges and universities ? such as Northern Arizona University, University of San Francisco, University of Nevada, Northwestern, and Creighton ? have accepted health arts graduates into graduate programs. These programs range from administration to English to pastoral ministry to vocational education ? more than 68 different programs.

The health arts program at the College of St. Francis has its own satellite graduate program that offers a master?s in health services administration.

Self-study at Syracuse or Edison?s videos

Other alternative programs exist, such as the Syracuse University-Independent Study Degree Programs in Syracuse, N.Y. [(315) 443-3284]. Thomas Cummings, vice president of enrollment management and education, said that baccalaureate programs for working adults, coming from near and far, were established in 1966. The Syracuse program is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

All of Syracuse?s undergraduate degree programs require a one-week on-campus residency per semester. The residency sets the pattern for your off-campus, independent study. Normally, the residency begins with a day of advisement, allowing you to be OplacedO at the appropriate level. The rest of the residency consists of concentrated classes, assignments, research, and reading. The university has its own facility for adult students during the residency for approximately $65 per day.

After your residency, you take all your study materials (books, reprints of articles, study guides, class rosters, etc.). You complete the assignments as outlined in your schedule from your instructor. At the end of the semester, you then return to the main campus for exams and do your residency for the upcoming semester.

Missing a residency can sometimes pose a problem; by missing a residency, you might have to wait two years until your needed course becomes available again.

The college offers a number of baccalaureate programs. The most applicable for dental hygienists seems to be the bachelor of arts in liberal studies. The goal of this degree is to give you a broad liberal education. The liberal studies are divided into four categories: humanities, social studies, math, and sciences. Occasional special electives are offered in popular subjects such as astronomy, business writing, and Irish literature.

You can transfer up to 90 credits, 66 from a junior college. You can earn a maximum of 30 credits through testing or through evaluation of extra-instructional or experiential learning. However, you still must complete a minimum of 30 credits at Syracuse University.

If you have interests or a background from liberal studies, the college also offers bachelor?s degrees in criminal justice, restaurant and food-service management, and business administration.

The undergraduate tuition is $320 per credit ($1,280 for four-credit course which makes the minimum investment of $9,600 in class tuition to complete the degree). The Lois Otten scholarship is presented twice yearly to an outstanding undergraduate through the Independent Study Degree Program.

This program also has several of its own graduate programs. These include master?s degrees in advertising design or illustration, library science, communications management, nursing, social science, and business administration.

The Independent Study Degree Program boasts a variety of students: health-care workers, corporate executives, homemakers, artists, restaurateurs, and retirees. Past or present students include a Broadway costume designer, an actor, an NFL quarterback, a disc jockey, an FBI agent, an African chieftain, and a Saudi prince.

Barbara Burlew, RDH, says she earned her bachelor?s of science degree through Thomas A. Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. [(609) 984-1100]. The college is an undergraduate institution chartered in 1972 and was charged with expanding the educational opportunities of adult learners. The college is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

This is quite a unique college in that it offers no classroom instruction, has no residency requirement, and has no full-time teaching faculty of its own. You meet degree requirements by passing college equivalency examinations, assessment of college-level learning, the transfer of credit earned at other colleges and universities, and/or completing a variety of independent learning courses via audio, video, or computer-facilitated. The college does not give courses itself, but, rather, evaluates and grants credit for work from other sources.

Thomas Edison requires that you have the national board certificate and state licensure to pursue the bachelor?s degree in applied science technology (BSAST). This particular degree is intended to meet the educational and professional needs of mid-career adults in a wide variety of applied science and technology fields. Besides dental hygiene, some other occupations represented include aviation, food technology, nuclear medicine, radiologic science, water resources management and many more. The college offers a number of other baccalaureate programs in liberal arts, business administration, and human services.

Baccalaureate degrees at Thomas Edison require 120 semester hours. You can transfer up to 80 hours from junior colleges. You may be able to earn credit for college-level learning experiences through assessment after you have enrolled in the college.

Burlew writes that her portfolio gave her 27 credits. Her continuing education courses counted towards her degree as did work experience as a dental assistant and dental hygienist. In addition, speaking at her child?s school about dental hygiene and service as her state association?s newsletter editor gave her credits. She also took advantage of proficiency exams to earn college credit. She earned remaining credits through her local university and then transferred them to Thomas Edison.

Since the college offers no classes, the cost varies widely and is difficult to estimate. Burlew writes that she completed her bachelor?s degree for less than $2,000 over six years. From what I could gather from the catalogue, you would need to pay a $75 application fee, $458 annual enrollment fee ($811 outside New Jersey), $32 technology services fee, credit transfer fee for 80 hours of dental hygiene course work for $450, portfolio/practicum for the remaining 40 credits for $1,000, and $130 for graduation. The investment for earning the degree looks like approximately $2,145 ($2,490 for non-New Jersey residents).

The cost goes up if you need to take more credits at your local university as you would have to factor in tuition from the other institution ? you would need to delete the $25 per credit cost from the portfolio figure and add in per credit tuition cost charged by your local university or wherever you will be enrolling in needed classes.

The college graduates students six times during the year. The annual commencement ceremony usually is held in October. Over 10,000 students have earned college degrees at Thomas Edison.

The college boasts a high rate of success for students applying to graduate schools. Nine out of 10 are admitted to the program of their choice. Some colleges that have accepted graduates from Thomas Edison into graduate school include Atlanta Law School, Harvard University, Princeton University, Indiana University, and Alabama State University.

Scope out the permanent Oalternatives?

Because some OalternativeO programs are so new you might be inclined to view all with suspicion. However, there are some actions you can take to make certain you are making a solid investment with your time and money. Thompson advises, first and foremost, to make sure the institution is accredited by the regional accrediting agency. If it?s not, don?t bother enrolling.

Thompson also recommends checking the institution?s commitment to the student. Check the college?s policy on commitment to off-campus locations. That is, make sure that if you are earnestly pursuing your degree, the college will not fold and say tough luck.

Regina Dreyer Thomas writes, OWhen you call, qualify the school by asking: What are the requirements for enrollment? Do I receive credit for previous studies/life experience? Is there a deadline for completion? Is there any residency requirement? What are the fees involved? How must they be paid?O

I would add, if you are interested in graduate school, call that school to see if the undergraduate degree you are interested in pursuing will be transferable and acceptable.

Doing your proper homework before investing in an off-campus program will pave the way for a satisfying and rewarding education. By building on past education and experience, combined with a reputable, established, accredited program, you and other associate degree hygienists can earn baccalaureate degrees. With the degree in hand, the future is wide open.

As Stigler says, OEarning my bachelor?s degree is a stepping stone to my future.O

Author?s note: I dedicate this article to the memories of Scott Douglass and Chelsea Miller Goin. Their influence continues.


* Bemis, Gail B., RDH, OPresident?s Address.O Access, September-October. 1995: 24.

* American Dental Hygienists? Association (1995). Discontinued Dental Hygiene Programs 1983-1995.

* American Dental Hygienists? Association (1995). Newly Accredited Dental Hygiene Programs 1982-1995.

* American Dental Hygienists? Association (1995). Breakdown of Types of Dental Hygiene Education Programs.

* American Dental Hygienists? Association (1994). Articulation Agreement Study October, 1994.

* American Dental Hygienists? Association, Breakdown.

* College of St. Francis, Health Arts Catalog. Joliet, Illinois. 1995-97:

* Syracuse University-Independent Study Degree Programs Catalog. Syracuse, New York. 1995-96: 3.

* Burlew, Barbara, RDH, BSAST, OHome Study.O RDH. January 1992:20.

* Thomas Edison State College Catalog, OThe Prospectus.O Trenton, New Jersey. 1994:4.

* Thomas, Regina Dreyer, RDH, Career Directions for Dental Hygienists. Holmdel: Career Directions Press, 64-65.

For class, the author visits a prison, turns detergent box into art

I graduated with an associate degree in dental hygiene from Sacramento City College in 1986 ? yet I yearned for that bachelor?s degree. However, what I found was that had I chosen to pursue a bachelor?s at my local university, the university would have applied only 52 out of my 98 credits.

For a long time, I was discouraged from pursuing my bachelor?s degree.

I found out about the College of St. Francis through a colleague, Judy Bowmer, RDH, BS. The college accepted virtually all of my dental hygiene credits and awarded me college credit for health care experience towards the degree. The balance of the credits I completed at the Reno, Nev., location while keeping my full-time job. And, I didn?t have to move to attend the college.

Some of my favorite classes were world literature, fine arts, and crime in society. World literature, my first class with the health arts program, was an absolute contrast to the science, the clinical, the oh-so-sterile setting of dental hygiene school. I found a new joy in discovering the expressive, sometimes emotional masterpieces created by literary geniuses. Most importantly for me, the instructor encouraged my own writing.

In my fine arts class, I attended plays, concerts, art galleries, and such I previously thought were reserved only for the elite, upper-crust society. The instructor was a senior graphic artist for International Game Technology, a company that manufactures slot machines. She explained the research and all the steps involved in producing her Egyptian slot machine art for machines at the Luxor resort in Las Vegas. My own final art project? A collage made out of a box that once held laundry detergent. Never has trash looked so appealing. I now realize that art is everywhere.

As a research project for my crime and society class, I was able to learn about child abuse by spending an entire day with a police detective. I watched him interview a victim and her mother. My instructor, the director of the local police academy, gave me a behind-the-bars tour of the Nevada maximum security prison.

I really enjoyed the independent study component of the classes. Since my interest is writing, I made a conscious effort to tailor my projects into potential articles, several of which were eventually published. I also appreciated having the ability to audit classes at no charge. I audited a summer American literature class just prior to beginning my graduate studies in English composition at the University of Nevada, Reno.

I graduated with a bachelor?s in Health Arts from the College of St. Francis in May 1995. I am proud hold a voluntary appointment as the hygienist representative on the advisory council of the health arts program in order to help the college better meet the needs of my colleagues. I completed my master?s in English composition from University of Nevada, Reno in May 1997 and am continuing my studies in the PhD program. I now write for consumer and professional publications.

?Heidi Emmerling, RDH, MA