Tyler Junior College officials are exploring the possibility of offering a four-year bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, based on proposed changed in state law.
Local legislators filed bills in the Texas House and Senate to allow for the college’s program to be upgraded to offer a bachelor degree in dental hygiene. If approved by both houses and the governor, a law would allow TJC to compete for a pilot program, which could then become a permanent degree plan.
TJC offers an associate level hygiene program, which Metke said receives inquiries from graduates wanting to know where they can obtain a baccalaureate degree. There are approximately 1,000 graduates in the 46 years that TJC’s dental hygiene program has operated.
The median earnings of dental hygienists are around $72,000 a year, Metke said.
Currently, there is no higher education institution between Dallas and Shreveport offering the degree. Health agencies have validated that the greatest unmet health need in East Texas is dental needs, said TJC President Dr. Mike Metke.
“We’ve uncovered a huge need and niche that TJC could fill,” Metke said.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, filed companion bills in the Texas Legislature.
The bills, SB 1400 and HB 3348, propose to amend section 130.0012 of the Texas Education Code to allow the Texas Education Coordinating Board to approve bachelor degree programs in applied technology, applied science and dental hygiene for certain institutions.
The colleges must go through a pilot program, be located in a county seat with a population greater than 200,000, include at least six public school districts in two counties, the filed bill reads.
Eltife said getting the bills passed would be a challenge.
“It won’t be easy to pass it,” he said Monday afternoon. “It goes beyond the scope of a junior college’s mission by getting a four-year degree, but I’m getting support for it. … It’s not a slam dunk, but we are going to work hard on it.”
Personally, Eltife said he is in favor of the program.
“I think it would be great for TJC and all of northeast Texas,” he said. “The facilities they are building will be phenomenal, and this will be a great fit into their plan for the nursing program.”
Clardy sits on the House Higher Education Committee and said he was happy to file a bill even though TJC is not within his district.
“All of us take a regional view of the issues, and we do make an effort to stick together and help each other to support these bills,” Clardy said. “Anything we can do to expand the number of healthcare providers in East Texas is a good thing. We are woefully underserved when it comes to healthcare professionals.”
TJC administrators last week requested the board of trustees’ permission to research feasibility of offering the baccalaureate degree in dental hygiene if the law opens the door.
Trustee Clint Roxburgh made the motion, seconded by trustee Mike Coker, to grant the permission. It passed unanimously.
Trustee Lonny Uzzell said the issue went before the Tyler Economic Development Board last week and also passed that board unanimously. The proposal will go before Smith County Commissioners Court Tuesday, when the school is expected to seek a resolution of support.