Designing & Launching a Successful CTE Dental Non-Credit Certificate

Cabrillo College, Aptos CA

Non-credit courses might not get the same visibility or accolades as traditional college classes. Still, the value to both students and employers shouldn't be overlooked — especially in light of today's COVID-19 crisis. Non-credit courses give students the option to explore new careers and learn new skills quickly at little to no cost. Non-credit classes also offer a valuable opportunity to partner with employers to create courses that meet their workforce needs, so they can fill roles faster and keep the local economy growing.

Developing non-credit courses can be rewarding for everyone involved, but the process is not always smooth. Let the Cabrillo College team's experience developing a successful non-credit Dental Infection Control Coordinator certificate guide your next course development. 

Pre-Planning | 1.5 to 2 Years in Advance

Begin by identifying your goals, timeline, and budget. Currently, Cabrillo College has a plan to increase the number of online programs meeting local workforce needs. The Infection Control Coordinator certificate supports this goal by giving students the chance to build skills in line with local job opportunities that provide a livable wage -- a critical factor for a region like the Bay Area with a high living cost.

Next, identify how you will measure success. Defining success aligns team expectations, makes reporting more straightforward and builds the case for future funding. You'll also want to map out your budget. Cabrillo received the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI) Improving Online CTE Pathways Grant to fund the program, and there was a set timeline the team had to follow to meet grant requirements. If you're still waiting on funding or applying for grants, try to identify any prep you can do to aid course development. We'll share more about how this helped the Dental Infection Control Courses.

Research Local Workforce Needs | 1.5 to 2 Years in Advance

Once you set the foundation, research on how to tailor your course for local workforce needs. During this phase, collect labor market information (LMI) and research similar work training programs to prevent duplication. Look for industry trends and changes that may impact the demand for a program or certificate.

In Cabrillo's case, the latest Infection Prevention guidelines from the CDC, OSHA, FDA, EPA, and OSAP (Organization for Safety Asepsis and Prevention) drove the Dental Infection Control certificate. With guidelines and laws required for dental offices, the Cabrillo team led by Noel Kelsch began to conduct surveys with local dental offices to understand how many offices had infection control coordinators on staff and their hiring outlook for the role. For this program, there was not accurate LMI data, so the survey filled the requirement. In addition, the Dental program engaged with potential students to better understand their goals, like increasing earning potential.

Design the Curriculum | 1 to 1.5 Years in Advance

Next, the team developed a curriculum based on their local industry research. The result was a program that would offer an online course and an in-person lab covering topics like the chain of infection, evidence-based guidelines and standards, governing agency regulations, protocols and procedures for infection control, and infection control protocol for a dental office. Although funding for the CVC-OEI grant hadn't arrived yet, the team decided to push the program through the curriculum approval process.

Cabrillo's decision to obtain curriculum approval before the CVC-OEI approved the grant turned out to be critical. When funding arrived a few short months later, Noel and the team were ready to dive into the technical aspect of course design and promotion without delay.

Course Design and Marketing | 6 Months to 1 Year in Advance

Next, the group began working with instructional designers to set up course modules, put together a marketing strategy, and even ran a test pilot of the program to identify and smooth out any issues. The plan was to promote the course in the Spring of 2020 and launch in the Fall of 2020.

The team began making industry and community presentations about the course to local dental associations, school districts, and dental assisting programs to kick-off recruiting students. Cabrillo then launched an English and Spanish campaign on local radio stations, newspapers, web, email, social media, and more.

Open Enrollment & Stay Flexible to Student Needs | 6 Months in Advance

Registration opened and thanks to outreach and marketing seats for the Dental Infection Control Coordinator courses began to fill quickly. Demand was high enough that another section of the online course, DH 460A, was opened. Around this time, the team noticed that Facebook and Twitter drew people from outside their immediate region, including the Southern California towns of Redding and San Diego. The team adapted the in-person lab, DH 460B, to a more flexible weekend date and held all the lab hours in one day so that students could fly in and out in one day.

Anticipating Challenges & Navigating a Pandemic | 6 Months to Start Date

While launching a certificate always has its challenges, no one could have anticipated the full impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic created a new sense of urgency for both potential students and employers. For students, the abrupt economic downturn meant having in-demand skills they could list on their applications rose to the top. At the same time, employers in the dental industry faced new state-mandated health regulations. The Dental Infection Control Coordinator role was more relevant than ever.

The team remained flexible and did its best to adjust to new needs due to the pandemic, keeping a careful eye on how to best support potential students with registration, technology, and scheduling. Lab class size restrictions due to COVID-19, an imperfect registration system, and students coming from across the state were just a few of the team's challenges.

While Noel and the team addressed most problems with flexibility, creativity, and persistence, the California Community College Apply's complex registration system continues to be a hurdle. Today the team is experimenting with streamlining registration using internal forms to batch enroll students into Cabrillo after they have gone through CCC Apply.

As a result of their collective efforts, the team was thrilled to register 64 new students to Cabrillo College. Currently, the two sections of the follow up in-person lab DH 460B are showing 80% enrollment.

Bringing It All Together

Building successful non-credit classes and programs can reap long-term benefits for employers, workers, and the entire community. Non-credit courses give students the ability to increase skills faster than traditional college courses, and employers can quickly hire those students, presenting a win-win for all involved. In the case of Noel and the team, advanced planning and an unwavering commitment to bring the program to life for both students and employers ended up providing a lifeline to the local community during a time of uncertainty. By taking the lessons learned from Noel and the team at Cabrillo, you can start planning your next non-credit program now and better position your college to support your entire local community in the future.

Teresa Ruiz Decker
Dream Catch Consulting

Sara Decelle
Online Pathways Grant Manager

Noel Kelsch
Dental Hygiene Director

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District or those of the California Community College Chancellor's Office.

Get Assistance

If you have questions or need
help, visit our Support Center


CVC Logo and home link
Copyright © 2024 California Community College Chancellors office. All rights Reserved.

Creative Commons License
This work by California Virtual Campus - Online Education Initiative, a project by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Copyright © 2024 by California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office.