Pharmacy school enrollment down

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Construction on the University of Hawaii at Hilo's new Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy building is shown in this May 29 photo.

A smaller than normal incoming class this semester means that enrollment is down at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

At last report, the new class of incoming pharmacy students totaled 48, UH-Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said last week, “and we were around 80 in the past.”

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“So we still have classes of 80 that (are in the pipeline) as well, but the new class is considerably smaller,” she aid.

In July, Irwin told the Tribune-Herald that enrollment at the College of Pharmacy, which has fluctuated over the past several semesters, was expected to decline this fall.

Irwin began in her role on July 1, but former interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai sent an email to the UH-Hilo ohana in early May expressing concerns about the pharmacy college, a copy of which was provided to the Tribune-Herald by a community member.

“When the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy opened in 2007, there was a severe shortage of pharmacists in Hawaii and a shortage of capacity in pharmacy schools nationwide,” Sakai wrote in the letter. “(The pharmacy college) was launched to address these gaps with an innovative financial plan that was based on a strong base of non-resident students who would complement local enrollment and pay a higher tuition rate.”

However, Sakai wrote that the changing health care environment in Hawaii, the Pacific and the nation has negatively affected enrollment, and as such, the College of Pharmacy will take “strong proactive measure to reduce costs commensurate with an anticipated smaller incoming class for fall 2019, and perhaps the next several years,” and will begin the process of redesigning the program to help reverse the current enrollment decline.

Irwin said the university is in progress of creating a new vision for the College of Pharmacy, and a future study will look at areas of improvement to help the university find its niche amid other pharmacy programs.

“We certainly, I think, can concentrate on certain areas of excellence,” she said. “And one area that I think is a strength for us that we could probably build on is rural health care and the role of pharmacies in rural areas and in indigenous areas. So, the idea would be to also recruit students from the mainland who might be from these rural areas and kind of teach them what we know, working on this island and in this space, and they can then go back to their communities as well.”

She doesn’t know yet what the “steady state” of the program will be.

“We’re not going to get back to the 80s because there are just so many pharmacy programs now in the country,” Irwin said. “To land at a steady state that’s around 50 (students) or so, I think would still create a viable program.”

Irwin said the new and nearly-completed $33.6 million pharmacy building will also help attract students to the program.

“It’s always nice to be able to show off really nice, state-of-the-art facilities, and I think if we market that space appropriate, that should also help with the enrollment in pharmacy, particularly attracting students from the mainland … ,” she said.

“I think it’s something we can market to the mainland as a good option for them — come to Hawaii. You want to become a pharmacist, but come and do it here. We can teach you things about the rural environment, we can teach you about some of the indigenous issues, give you a skill set that you wouldn’t necessarily get at a traditional pharmacy school in the mainland, and then you know, send you back to your community where you can serve.”

Smaller class sizes also impact the College of Pharmacy’s budget.

Irwin said the College of Pharmacy is funded separately from the rest of the campus. It is “pretty much self-funded.”

“So we’ve had to do some trimming and really take a look at efficiencies,” she said. “How can we be more efficient in delivering the education we need to deliver. But it is also important to keep in mind that we still have those large classes in the pipeline.”

Irwin said said a couple of faculty members have left, which saved some money.

“We’re doing OK,” she said. “But it is a lot of belt-tightening going on.”

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The College of Pharmacy’s new building has yet to be occupied. Irwin said faculty and staff will begin moving in next month and a grand opening is set for 10 a.m. Dec. 4.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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