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Dental hygiene school awards first bachelor's degrees

The college has offered an associate's degree in dental hygiene for decades; its new degree is completely online.

Published July 22, 2005

CLEARWATER - The School of Dental Hygiene at St. Petersburg College will issue its first-ever bachelor's degrees to 40 students this weekend during SPC's summer graduation. Hygiene students will receive diplomas along with 345 other graduates during Saturday's 10 a.m. ceremony at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater.

Dental hygiene is not the only baccalaureate program at SPC. In 2001, the state Legislature approved four-year programs in education, nursing and technology management, said Amelia Carey, director of institutional advancement.

Since then, the list of four-year programs at the school has grown to include international business, orthotics and prosthetics, public safety administration and veterinary technology.

It was not until 2004, however, that dental hygiene students could continue their schooling at SPC and earn a four-year degree. St. Petersburg College has offered a two-year associate's degree in dental hygiene since 1965, the level of education required for private practice.

The four-year degree can give students a competitive advantage in a field where practitioners are in high demand, said Gregg Langston, president of the Pinellas County Dental Association.

"The job market is great for hygienists," Langston said. "In addition to teaching, most of (those with baccalaureates) will go into clinical practice. There are some hygienists who work for different companies as sales and technical representatives."

Many hygienists work for multiple dental practices and earn between $20 and $30 an hour, he said. Langston is not currently hiring, as he already employs three hygienists at his practice, but he said those with more advanced degrees will certainly be in demand.

"When it's dealing with the health of the patient, we're always looking for people with higher skills and experience levels," Langston said.

The SPC program is taught entirely online over a 19-month period. Associate's degrees are requisite for admission, so students already have the lab experience needed for the profession, said Tami Grzesikowski, the school's dean.

The vast majority of the program's students already work in the field. Grzesikowski said most of the school's baccalaureate students come for professional development and to open new doors.

"A lot of these people can't see themselves working as a private clinician for 25 years," Grzesikowski said.

Currently, 120 students are enrolled in the baccalaureate dental hygiene program. The 30-credit-hour curriculum costs $2,500 for Florida residents and $8,500 for out-of-state students. By being online, Grzesikowski said, the program reaches 10 students elsewhere in the country, with the farthest in Hawaii.

[Last modified July 22, 2005, 00:33:20]

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