Despite reductions in funding for higher education that threaten degree programs statewide, the University of South Florida will seek approval today for a pharmacy program from the group that oversees the state's 11 public universities.
If approved, the plan would create a four-year clinical program and an inaugural class of 50 students in fall 2011.
Within six years, the program would reach a capacity of 400 students, costing $10.5 million a year in salaries and labs; and generating $7.3 million in tuition, according to a business plan the university submitted to the Florida Board of Governors.
USF officials say there is a critical need for the program as the state grapples with a 20 percent shortage in pharmacists. They also say only two other state universities – the University of Florida and Florida A&M University — offer similar programs.
This year, UF received about 2,000 applications for 300 seats while Florida A&M received 1,200 applications for 150 seats. Many students were forced to change their plans or apply to out-of-state universities, said USF spokesman Michael Hoad.
"There's a very clear need here," Hoad said. "The cost is easily justified compared to the need."
The proposal includes a request for $21.4 million in state funding over eight years, which USF officials say must begin in 2011. Until then, more than $500,000 in start-up costs will be covered by a $1 million donation, along with funds from the College of Medicine.
Kevin Sneed, an associate professor in USF's department of family medicine who would lead the pharmacy program, thinks the state will quickly see a return on its investment.
"We expect out graduates will get their degrees here and wind up employed here," Sneed said. "Upon the graduation of our first two classes, we fully expect that the initial investment will be realized in terms of salary by our graduates."
Sneed, who came to USF in 2007 after eight years at Florida A&M's University College of Pharmacy, said that USF's program would be unique in its emphasis on medication management for elderly patients.
The possibility of expanded access to pharmacy education led Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita to write a letter to the Board of Governors in support of USF's proposal.
"There is a need to educate our pharmacy students in the state of Florida," said Ferlita, who worked as a pharmacist in Tampa for more than 40 years. "When they go somewhere else, they stay there because we haven't offered them opportunities here."
The proposal already has cleared a Board of Governors subcommittee, which met via conference call last week. If the full board approves the proposal today, the Florida Legislature also must approve the program. Then it still must pass muster with the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.