The Zeis Science & Multimedia Building will house the UNC Chapel Hill pharmacy school’s satellite program at UNC Asheville.
Are two satellite pharmacy schools in Asheville too many? UNC Chapel Hill and Wingate University will soon find out. Both plan to start classes there as soon as fall 2011.
In April, the UNC system’s Board of Governors picked Chapel Hill’s expansion plan over a proposal by UNC Greensboro to start its own pharmacy school. Money played a big role. UNCG’s plan would have cost $10 million to start and possibly $50 million more for a building later. The satellite program, through a partnership with UNC Asheville and Mission Hospital, will cost $2.5 million to launch. The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has pledged to raise the money and has commitments of $600,000 from Buncombe County and $100,000 from the city. Mission will split the cost of professors, with tuition covering operating expenses.
But just before the Board of Governors made its choice, Wingate — a private school southeast of Charlotte — announced its own plan for a satellite campus in Asheville. Why there? The region is underserved, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, part of UNC Chapel Hill. Western North Carolina has 7.3 pharmacists per 10,000 residents, compared with the statewide average of 9.3 and the national average of 8.0. UNC’s campus would enroll about 40 students per year, while Wingate’s would have about 18 per class. Wingate’s pharmacy school graduated its first class in 2007; UNC’s was founded in 1897.
Robert Blouin, dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC Chapel Hill, says he doesn’t know the specifics of Wingate’s proposal, but he’s not worried. “We’re going to proceed with our own program, which has a very strategic relationship with Mission Hospital and UNC Asheville. Our decision was based upon our understanding of the current needs of the western part of the state.” He also pointed to the chamber’s campaign to demonstrate the support UNC has in the region.
But Robert Supernaw, dean of Wingate’s pharmacy school, says his school has local backers as well. A nonprofit foundation is expected to announce its support soon. “We approached Asheville prior to UNC and saw no reason to change based on UNC’s plans.”
Can the region support two pharmacy schools? “I’m not sure I can answer that without really understanding the focus of the other program,” Blouin says. Supernaw doesn’t think it should have to. “We felt in the current economic situation that if the private sector could do something that would not be a burden on taxpayers, the environment would be right for that solution.”