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El Camino College launches new bachelor program in respiratory care

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For the first time in its 76-year history, El Camino College is offering a baccalaureate degree program.

Starting in the fall, students will be able to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in respiratory care, an accelerated 18-month bachelor program that is taught in online format across three semesters.

“We are proud to launch El Camino’s first-ever bachelor’s degree program, which will help students further their education in respiratory care while training in areas such as personnel management, policy design, and case management of patients in a clinical setting,” said El Camino College President Dr. Brenda Thames in a statement.

California Senate Bill 850, signed into law in 2014 by then Governor Jerry Brown, allows community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees.

In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom approved Assembly Bill 927, which eliminates the 2026 sunset date on existing baccalaureate pilot programs in fields where there’s high demand. AB 927 stipulates that new bachelor programs at community colleges can’t duplicate existing programs at California State University or the University of California campuses.

El Camino College currently offers a two-year associate degree program in respiratory care that prepares students for careers as respiratory therapists.

Unlike the associate degree program, which focuses on the technical aspect of the career, the bachelor program will teach students evidence-based medicine, case management and other advanced skills so graduates can go into managerial positions, said Dr. Russell Serr, dean of health sciences and athletics at El Camino College.

“A lot of the hospitals have mentioned, the students come in, their technical skills are great, but for supervisory positions, they need some more soft skills; they need some more education to make them better managers and supervisors,” he said Friday. “So this program will allow those students to have that type of training to better their job prospects and their wages as well.”

Since the bachelor program doesn’t include clinical hours, the subject matter is such that it lends itself well to online learning, which is a plus schedule-wise for prospective students, many of whom are career practitioners already working in the field, Serr said.

The new program will help meet the growing demand of respiratory therapists in the labor market. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected employment of respiratory therapists is expected to increase 14 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average rate for other occupations.

An aging population that deals with increased prevalence of respiratory conditions, a change in air quality, the retirement of current practitioners and the impact of COVID-19 all contributed to the high demand for respiratory therapists in recent years.

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing. The 2021 median annual pay for a respiratory therapist was $61,830, according to the BLS. The typical entry level education for respiratory therapists is an associate degree, but Serr said having a bachelor degree is likely to bump that salary up by $25,000.

“It’s a chance for students who usually wouldn’t be able to afford to get a bachelor’s degree to get a bachelor’s degree, improves not only their wages, but their job opportunities,” he said.

According to El Camino College’s program requirements, the degree includes 41 units and course fees are $130 per unit, making the total to be $5,330. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

The new program is open to current students and career practitioners. Applicants must already have graduated from an accredited respiratory care program and have an associate degree in respiratory care from an accredited community college.

The application deadline for the fall 2023 cohort, which includes 20-25 students, is 11:59 pm, Friday, on June 30. The school will open applications for a new cohort of students at the end of every spring or the beginning of summer, Serr said.

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