Administrators eye tweaks to pharmacy college

Enrollment at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy is expected to decline this fall, university officials say.

Enrollment at the pharmacy college has fluctuated over the past several semesters, but has generally been on the decline from the fall 2016.

That semester, there were 317 doctor of pharmacy students and 18 graduate students, for a total of 335, according to enrollment numbers provided by the university.

There were 328 students enrolled in spring and fall 2017, 321 in spring 2018, 329 in fall 2018, and 319 in spring 2019.

Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said last week that enrollment in the upcoming academic year will be lower than it has been.

However, students are still registering, and Irwin said she didn’t know what the fall enrollment will be.

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.

“After our College of Pharmacy opened, which was a really important thing for the island and the state to fill a need for pharmacists, many pharmacy programs were popping up all over the place,” Irwin said. “So there’s more competition now to recruit students.”

Irwin said the university has put together a team to study the program, find ways to “make it distinct,” and to look at whether enrollment should stay the same or “whether we shift enrollment a little bit.”

According to Irwin, these processes are just starting. She’d like to bring in a consultant, and interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ken Hon has been assembling the group to address the matter, she said.

“And then the idea is that that group will do some research, come up with some recommendations that they can then deliver to the dean and I, and we can consider where we go forward,” Irwin said. “It’s an excellent program. We have really good people in place, and so it’s a matter of … how do we make this one distinctive to draw more students.”

Irwin said the new $33.6 million pharmacy building, set to open in the fall, will help.

“Even graduate students, when they can come and see new facilities and see a very vibrant program (and) active faculty, they get excited about coming,” she said. “So, I’m very optimistic about the facility and the impact it will have.”

Irwin said enrollment has “declined a little,” and UH-Hilo is working on strategies to bring it up.

The university also is looking at whether there are ways “internally in that college where we can do a little bit of restructuring to save some money until we get the enrollment and the program sort of on the same level.”

Irwin said she is still getting up to speed about the pharmacy college.

“The thing is, and this, again, is something I learned just from talking to people in the community, is that health care at all levels is a need on this island,” she said. “And now that pharmacists can do some delivery of services, things like giving vaccines and things like that, I think we need to produce as many qualified graduates as we can.”

Health care is an issue islandwide and across the nation, she said.

“But we want UH-Hilo to be a part of improving that, so how do we do it? How do we get the various departments and colleges that work in health-related fields to really be having curriculum that is producing graduates who can go out there and serve this community as employees and citizens and health care workers at all levels, whether they’re psychological counselors or pharmacists or nurses. … We need them all.

“I’m going to be looking at the allied health professions generally on the campus and seeing where we may have opportunity to improve.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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