South University plans to open a new pharmacy school next year that will be housed in a yet-to-be constructed 26,000-square-foot building adjacent to its current facility near Farrow Road and Interstate 77.
The pharmacy school - an expansion of South's existing program in Savannah - is expected to enroll 65 students in June 2010, with plans to expand to 90 students per year in a few years, said William Wynn, South University's experience education coordinator and dean of its school of pharmacy.
Brad Kauffman, Columbia campus president for South, said the school expects to break ground on the new building in the next couple of weeks and hopes to have it ready for the new pharmacy students in June.
South, a private, for-profit school that offers many of its courses online, has structured its pharmacy program differently than those at other schools.
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Students will be able to stay in the program throughout the year, eliminating the summer break other schools offer and giving students a chance to get their degrees in three years rather than the four or five years that is typical.
South's pharmacy program is yet another increase in the number of slots available to South Carolina students who want to study pharmacy.
Presbyterian College will be welcoming its first pharmacy students in fall 2010, and the S.C. College of Pharmacy, the joint pharmacy program operated by the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina, enrolls about 190 students each year. That's up from about 120 students five years ago, said Joseph DiPiro, executive dean of the S.C. College of Pharmacy.
Wynn said South, which will use video conferencing to link students in Columbia to professors in Savannah, does not view other pharmacy schools as competition.
"We view it as another school trying to provide trained pharmacists, just like us," Wynn said.
DiPiro said the increasing number of pharmacy schools has meant some changes.
"We talk now in our college that it is a much different atmosphere," he said. "We compete for faculty, for students and for training sites."
There was talk of a shortage of pharmacists in South Carolina and across the nation, but such a shortage has been hard to quantify.
And DiPiro is not sure it exists anymore.
It is not what it was a couple of years ago, DiPiro said, noting that five new pharmacy schools have opened recently in Tennessee, with additional schools opening in North Carolina and Georgia.
DiPiro said the economic downturn has led to business and health care cutbacks that have lessened the demand for pharmacists.
"It has changed dramatically within the last few years," he said. "Demand is about equal to supply."
South University is betting that won't always be the case.
"I believe there is an ever-growing demand for pharmacists globally," Wynn said. "With the aging population, there will be an increased need for pharmacists. I don't believe the need will be met."