Austin Walsh/Daily Journal
Respiratory therapy students in their classroom at Skyline College in San Bruno. The college expects to begin offering a baccalaureate degree to students in the program next year.
Students in the respiratory therapy program at Skyline College credit it with changing the trajectory of their lives.
Michael Bustos said he appreciated the school’s interest in offering a degree because he felt students who graduate from the program will have leg up in the always competitive medical profession.
“This is a step toward the evolving standards that are always going higher, and it gives us an edge,” he said.
The program itself is evolving as officials at the San Bruno college are laying the groundwork to roll out its first four-year degree. The school will begin offering respiratory therapy students a baccalaureate degree in the fall semester next year, after the California Community Colleges Board of Governors gave final approval March 16 to license 12 community colleges across the state to participate in a pilot program.
Bustos, 31, said he made the decision to pursue a career in medicine after caring for his mother and grandmother. He said joining the program has helped broaden his horizons and expand his perspective on what he’s capable of accomplishing in the workforce.
“It has given me a new lease on life,” he said.
Juan Cornejo, a fellow student in the program, echoed those sentiments.
“This program really changed my life,” he said.
Cornejo said he appreciates the technical discipline that the program helps develop, as well as the critical thinking that teachers encourage, because that can lay the groundwork for pursuing management positions after graduating.
Skyline was one of 34 schools that applied to join the pilot program, which is part of a larger state effort to make baccalaureate degrees more accessible.
Raymond Hernandez, dean of the school’s science, math and technology division, said he believes the program is a perfect fit to be the college’s first four-year degree.
“Respiratory therapy is well positioned for the pilot program,” he said.
Hernandez, who has a background in practicing respiratory care, said he believes offering baccalaureate degrees dovetails into the community college system’s mission, which is to offer higher education, that can be easily transferred elsewhere, while also developing the work force.
He noted the threshold for finding entry level work in respiratory therapy is shifting toward requiring a baccalaureate degree, a step up from an associate of science degree, so the college’s decision is in line with prerequisites for students trying to find a job in the medical field.
Hernandez said he expects roughly 25 students will be part of the inaugural class next fall, but is not sure how the demographics of the class will be divided.
He said he anticipates some members of the class to be students who recently graduated with associate of science degrees, and others to be health care professionals who have been in the workforce but want to further their professional development.
“We don’t know what it will look like yet,” he said. “But we are ready to get to work.”
The state board’s approval requires the selected community colleges to admit students into degree programs by 2017, but Skyline College President Regina Stanback Stroud has said the school will be prepared next fall to admit 25 students next year, another 25 in the subsequent year and eventually as many as 50 students per class.
She said the school is ready to hit the ground running because of the legwork it did in advance of the state board approving the degree program.
Stanback Stroud said she is proud of the respiratory therapy program at Skyline, as it will improve the chances for local students to graduate with an affordable baccalaureate degree.
“The impact it can have on this community is amazing,” she said.
She said she has heard nothing but enthusiasm regarding the new degree program.
“The community is really, really excited,” she said.
Other baccalaureate degrees approved to be offered at other community colleges include disciplines such as airframe manufacturing technology, industrial automation, mortuary science, equine industry, dental hygiene, health information management, and more.
Community college students enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program will not be allowed to pursue degrees in courses already offered by the California State University or University of California systems.
Foothill College, in Los Altos Hills, will also offer a dental hygiene baccalaureate degree as part of the pilot program.
The pilot program will end after the 2022-23 school year, in time for students enrolled to graduate with their degrees, at which point legislators may renew it, pending review.
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