With the perceived pharmacist shortage in the United States, paired with the expanding number of prescription medications being dispensed, there is growing pressure on colleges and schools of pharmacy to produce more pharmacists. This trend is promoting an expansion of pharmacy colleges and schools across the country via addition of multi-campus programs.
Multi-campus colleges and schools now make up approximately 20% (20 of 106) of all colleges and schools of pharmacy. They are predominantly public colleges and over half are located in the South/Southeast. We did not collect information to determine why most multi-campus programs were at public colleges and schools. State budget reductions in recent years may have pushed these programs to develop enhanced revenue streams. Some universities may have additional resources to draw from to support multi-campus programs. Also, public colleges and schools may have a stronger mandate to serve other areas of their state. The authors learned of other colleges and schools that were planning to establish multi-campus programs in the future but did not include them.
Assessment of multi-campus programs becomes especially important and instrumental to uphold standards set by ACPE. ACPE standards state that distance-learning activities must have an evaluation plan that includes assessment between the campuses regarding comparability. The standards further state that colleges and schools “must ensure that workflow and communication among administration, faculty, staff, preceptors, and students engaged in the distance-learning activities are maintained” and “interaction of students across campuses be stimulated and encouraged.” Beyond in-school program assessment, ACPE recommends assessment through admission counselors to identify ideal candidates likely to be successful in a distance-education curriculum, including those students with self-motivation, commitment, and the necessary skills to perform well at a distance.1
We did not determine how well these surveyed programs met the ACPE standards or how well students performed on each of the campuses.
Technology (classroom, communication) is an important consideration for multi-campus programs. Although technology was reported to function well by more than 90% of respondents, many of those programs listed “problems with effective distance education technology” and “effective communication between campuses” as issues with multi-campus programs. Therefore, while the technology is working, it may not be working well enough. Given the rapid improvements in communication technology, these issues are likely to improve in the near future but may impose high costs. The quality of technology at the programs surveyed was not determined beyond the self-reports.
Colleges and schools cited a wide range of other issues with their multi-campus programs. While we recorded specific responses to identify major problems and issues, we did not investigate reasons for the responses. Also, while some institutions cited increased interprofesionalization as a reason for establishing a distant program, one program cited difficulties with interprofessionalization as a problem. These issues are clearly site specific.
Given the multiple locations at which faculty members and students attend class, communication between sites is typically a challenge and was one of the most frequently reported problems. Although there are many methods of communication available for distance-education programs, those using them must be effectively trained and have experience with the equipment in order for it to be optimally utilized by both students and faculty members. Having a member of the faculty or staff at each campus who is well versed in distance communication and technology may help tremendously. Initial and recurrent training sessions for all faculty members on new and existing technology can help them stay up-to-date on what communication options are available at their institution.
While some programs reported that cultural differences between campuses were important issues, there is no apparent generalizable approach to this issue. There are many types of academic cultures, at least those represented by large comprehensive universities, academic medical centers, large and small programs, research intensive and non-research intensive, as well as, the focus of the home university (such as religious affiliation or special population served).
The data presented in this report do not point to one particular multi-campus model that is superior to another. The design for a multi-campus program is best determined by the local factors, resources, and needs of the college/school. There are many other issues that were not addressed in this report such as the extra effort required by multi-campus programs and ACPE to achieve and maintain accreditation and the level of staffing required at distant campuses.