Declining enrollment among challenges UH Hilo’s pharmacy college faces

State lawmakers examine declining enrollment at UH Hilo's pharmacy college

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last month, the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaii Hilo opened its new $31 million building.

But the celebrations came as the college is facing significant challenges due in large part to economic trends affecting pharmacy schools around the country.

A decade ago, there was a glut of students applying. Now, there’s a shortage, which has forced the college to cut its budget.

“We typically have a class of 70. This year we admitted a class of 50," said Dean Carolyn Ma.

Added UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin: “There has been an explosion of pharmacy programs across the U.S. In California alone, they have doubled the number of pharmacy schools in the last 20 years," she said.

“We may not go back to those days when we were having 85 or 90 students."

During a hearing at the state Legislature on Friday, lawmakers said UH officials should have done a better job of forecasting the demand for the program.

“If we ask you to do a program and you feel ‘hey we’re not going to be able to sustain that program,’ you need to be able to stand up and say that’s not a good idea,” said state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Lawmakers also questioned UH Hilo’s leadership about the a recent no-confidence vote against Ma by the college’s faculty.

“I’ve had multiple emails from concerned faculty. Changes is always tough and there’s no questions about that and I’m sure you’ve had to make some tough decisions,” said state Sen. Kai Kahele (D) Hilo.

“(But) what’s going on with that?”

Irwin said a lot of the faculty’s concern is due to the ongoing enrollment decline and subsequent budget cuts.

“Typically, when we have to make tough decisions and cut some budgets, people are not happy and that is a large part of what is going on I believe," she said.

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