How Free Tuition Could Change the Pharmacy Education Landscape

JANUARY 09, 2017
Recently, in New York State, the governor announced a push to deliver free tuition to public colleges and universities for students from families making under $125,000 per year. This echoes what many have been calling for nationally: tuition-free public colleges and universities. What is not being widely discussed is the potential impact this may have on private pharmacy schools.

Many in private education are concerned that incentivizing public institutions alone will reduce enrollment in the private institutions over time to the point that they may be forced to close. This leads some to wonder about how that will impact private pharmacy education. In Buffalo, NY alone, there are 4 pharmacy schools within a 2-hour drive; 3 are private. Two are associated with private, liberal arts colleges. If tuition-free public undergraduate education becomes available in New York State, or even nationwide, these private pharmacy schools may be impacted. Lower undergraduate enrollment may mean higher tuition for all students at these schools.

Recently, there has been a persistent worry among many regarding the large number of pharmacy schools that are opening across the country that may result in a flooded job market, lowered salaries, and increased job scarcity. It is possible that increased economic stress on private institutions may limit the rapid proliferation of pharmacy schools. The opposite is also possible. As pharmacy schools can bring in more students and tuition dollars, many private institutions may consider opening pharmacy schools as a hedge for the tough economic times ahead.

Obviously, this is all simply conjecture as no formal plans have been solidified in New York State or beyond. It is clear that tuition-free public undergraduate education is a hot topic of conversation and, if implemented, could have a dramatic effect on higher education in general.

Pharmacists in and out of academia would likely be impacted by these changes as well. We should be discussing the ramifications of free public undergraduate institutions and contribute to the larger political conversation to ensure pharmacy education is positively impacted in these times of change. 

Erik Hefti, PharmD, MS, PhD
Erik Hefti, PharmD, MS, PhD
Erik Hefti holds a PharmD as well as a Master's and PhD degrees in pharmaceutical science from the University at Buffalo. His research focus is pediatric pharmacogenomic factors impacting cardiovascular toxicity following cancer chemotherapy and genetic testing utilization to optimize healthcare outcomes. He is currently practicing as a clinical pharmacist at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Buffalo, NY.