District explores four-year options

Skyline is hoping to be one of the 15 community colleges throughout the state selected to offer an experimental four-year degree.

Senate bill 850, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 29., has garnered a great deal of media attention and many of the state’s community colleges are seeking to participate in the pilot four-year program. However, geography and capacity of the schools to meet the program’s requirements are factors that will be taken into account.

Initially, each of the district’s three schools had been exploring the possibility of offering bachelor’s degrees, although the pilot program doesn’t allow more than one school per district to participate.

“We’ve been at the forefront since the beginning,” District Spokesperson Barbara Christensen said.

According to Christensen, the district has been exploring the possibility of four-year programs in respiratory therapy from Skyline, radiologic technology at Cañada, and nursing at College of San Mateo. However, according to Raymond Hernandez, Dean of Science, Technology and Math at Skyline, nursing is off the table due to the fact that the state’s university system already offers bachelor’s degrees in nursing, which disqualifies it from the community college pilot program. He noted that dental hygiene could be a possibility from College of San Mateo.

Hernandez started his career in respiratory therapy in 1986 with an associate degree, before any certification was required, and has seen the field evolve to require more formal education since then.

Currently, Loma Linda University has the only four-year respiratory therapy program in the state. According to Hernandez, the western U.S is behind when it comes to advanced training in the field, with most four-year programs existing on the east coast.

Hernandez said that the lower-division respiratory therapy programs at Skyline and other colleges sufficiently prepare students to work directly with patients and to be skilled practitioners in the field, but the increased training and critical thinking skills provided by a four-year degree would open up other opportunities in management, research, and education. He also noted that it typically takes more than two years to complete respiratory therapy and other vocational programs.

“Most programs require more units than an associates,” Hernandez said.

He added that, in order to offer a bachelor’s degree, there were requirements that must be met by the school and faculty. The school must be properly accredited and faculty in the four-year program must hold at least a master’s degree.

“Our faculty mostly meet the minimum (already),” Hernandez said.

While excited about the prospect of offering a four-year degree in respiratory therapy, he acknowledged that there are a total of five respiratory therapy programs at community colleges in the Bay Area, which could impact whether or not Skyline is chosen for that particular degree. However, there are other programs that Hernandez said could potentially be considered for expansion, such as automotive technology or paralegal studies, although he was unsure if those departments had any plans to participate.

Skyline and other schools are currently waiting to hear more about the pilot program and whether they will be able to participate.

“We’ll find out more as time goes on,” Christensen said. She recently added that there have so far been no updates to the district’s plans that she’s aware of.