September 8, 2008

UCSD Pharmacy School Coping With Fiscal Crisis

By Chambers, Heather

Just six years old and barely through its third class of graduates, UC San Diego's pharmacy school is already struggling with financial problems that could weigh heavily on its accreditation status.

Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is under review this year by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, an agency tasked with assessing and granting accreditation to pharmacy schools nationwide.

As is customary for newly accredited programs, UCSD's pharmacy school is due for a two-year assessment instead of the usual six- year review required of older programs.

Although the accreditation agency lists the UC school's status as "continued" for the 2008-2009 school year, Skaggs is scheduled for a visit by the accreditation council in October to discuss financial concerns it has, according to Dean Palmer Taylor. He said the pharmacy school is trying to convince university officials it will need an additional $3 million a year in order to maintain its accredited status.

"We cannot operate with that kind of deficit without there being a problem with our accreditation and it's an unfair arrangement to ask other schools or units on campus to continually subsidize pharmacy," Taylor said.

Skaggs' operating budget relies on a mix of state funds provided by the UC Office of the President, government grants, student tuition and fees and private philanthropy. State funding accounts for the smallest portion and philanthropy is limited by yearly payouts from an endowment fund. For every student, state funding is about a third the cost of tuition and other fees paid by students.

Budget Cuts

Skaggs is trying to cope with likely state-mandated budget cuts of 7 percent, which are under review by the UC Board of Regents and UC Office of the President.

Taylor said the latest round of budget cuts puts pressure on an already tight operating budget.

"The budget cuts only exacerbate the problem as opposed to creating the problem," he said.

Taylor, who has spent three decades with the university, blames a system that he says is flawed.

"It's been the policy of the office of the president to start things and not have the ability to sustain them," he said.

Taylor referred to it as a "launch and starve" tactic, whereby a new program is approved for funding then starved of its promised funds. UC officials never delivered on their promise to fund the pharmacy program as it grew, he said.

Brad Hayward, spokesman with the UC Office of the President, said the office provides UCSD with "the level of funding provided by the state, nothing less."

"Its unfortunate that state funds right now are as constrained as they are but both the campus and the system will need to consider looking at ways of supporting the school as best they can," he said.

Taylor said he will look to other departments, such as the School of Medicine, for short-term funding help.

"In pharmacy, the tuition and fees are essentially the same, within $1,000, yet the medical schools receive roughly three to three and a half times the subsidy per student," Taylor said.

Because Skaggs is a newer program, Taylor said he worried that other more established schools would take precedence.

Student Body

When Skaggs admitted its first class in 2002, Palmer said it accepted only 25 students. It has gradually grown bigger since then, admitting 60 students this year from an application pool of about 1,800.

A $30 million naming gift from the Skaggs Institute for Research helped it build facilities, purchase equipment and recruit faculty. But Taylor said it has operated at a deficit of about $1 million a year for the past several years.

Taylor said he's trying to remind university officials of its importance in the overall health of the community.

Skaggs was intended to attract top-notch candidates interested in a four-year doctor of pharmacy degree who might one day work for San Diego's burgeoning biopharmaceutical community, in academia or for hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities.

Because state boards of pharmacy require licensure applicants to have graduated from an accredited pharmacy degree program, the matter has broad implications for the San Diego work force, he said. Additionally, all state boards of pharmacy require pharmacists to participate in accredited or otherwise approved continuing education credits for re-licensure.

"I would hope we could accomplish a campus plan to eliminate the budgetary deficits so we could present a sound fiscal plan to the review body," Taylor said.

Copyright San Diego Business Journal Aug 11, 2008

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