Pharmacy college aims to shore up enrollment


Over the last decade, enrollment has dropped by about 50% at the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

Despite recent investments such as a new $31 million building, enrollment continues on a downward trend, reflecting a nationwide decline in pharmacy school interest.


This year, the college reported a total enrollment of 156 students, down from 213 students reported last year. There also were 77 students who graduated in 2022, which is down significantly from the 2015 high of 91 students.

“Enrollment applications for colleges and schools of pharmacy across the country have decreased significantly over the years,” said Interim Dean at the college Miriam Mobley Smith, who cited various factors including issues with reimbursement rates for professionals, more colleges opening, and an overall saturated market which makes securing a job difficult.

The monthly journal Pharmacy Times confirmed the nationwide decline. In the fall of 2011, there were roughly 107,000 applications to pharmacy schools throughout the U.S. That dropped to roughly 76,000 in 2015 and 40,000 by 2021.

To address the challenges, the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy — which has 27 full-time and part-time faculty members — has set a new enrollment target of 200 students, or roughly 50 students per class, which it hopes to achieve in the coming years by offering new courses, curriculum and certificate programs.

“The curriculum change is something that needed to happen at the college,” Smith said. “You can’t have a stagnant curriculum because the health care environment is not stagnant.”

The curriculum will debut in August and will include a foundational assessment, a layered-learning approach that puts emphasis on the study of biology and clinical work, and a new community-driven focus that will incorporate more local events, screenings and partnerships with professionals.

“Pharmacy school should be hard to get into and hard to get out of,” Smith said. “What I mean by that is that we want the program to be rigorous so that when they graduate, they possess the requisite level of knowledge, skills and abilities to be able to care for the population that we serve. High quality in, high quality out.”

Students also will have a new requirement to complete up to eight electives prior to graduation.

New elective courses range from specialty pharmacy to pharmacogenomics, or the study of how genes affect how individuals respond to medication.

“That doubles the current elective opportunity,” Smith said. “It also gives students potential career opportunities so they can explore areas of interest that they may not have had the opportunity to explore before.”

The school will also introduce a Veterinary Pharmacy certificate program, allowing students to care for both companions and farm animals as well as study zoonotic diseases, or those transferred from an animal to a human, which became a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These certificates help to enhance a student’s ability to have career options and spend some additional time learning an area they may not get as a core component of their curriculum,” Smith said. “It will also prepare students for opportunities like post-graduate work, as well as potentially working as a pharmacist in a veterinary pharmacy, which this state really needs more of.”

The College of Pharmacy also will be undergoing a change in leadership.

Smith currently serves as the interim dean, and is anticipated to transition out of her role by the end of this summer.

The application process already has begun for a new dean, with the search committee beginning to review applications and schedule interviews.

Whoever accepts the position will inherit several responsibilities, like making sure the revised curriculum is on track, developing the college’s strategic five-year plan, and securing the college an accreditation, with a review visit scheduled for mid-April 2025.

“And certainly, to continue to deal with enrollment,” Smith added of the responsibilities. “That’s key and should not be overlooked. So they’ll have their hands full, but that’s what the dean position is all about. It’s a labor of love.”

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