"We can breathe a sigh of relief, but not for long," ETSU Pharmacy Dean Larry Calhoun said, adding that college leaders already had started work on the next phase of the accreditation process. "The approach we have taken from the beginning is to be the best we can be."
On Sunday, the ACPE board of directors approved the college's application for pre-candidate status, the first phase of the process toward full accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the ACPE as the official accrediting body for professional degree pharmacy programs across the country.
The news came as ETSU opened the spring semester, including the first pharmacy courses for the college's inaugural class of students. The dean said administrators interrupted Dr. David Johnson's biochemistry course to inform the 72 students who took a chance by joining a new college.
"It's a great milestone because all of our efforts have been closely scheduled and calculated ... to happen before we started our first classes," Calhoun said.
As administrators acclimated students to the college last week in orientation sessions on campus, Calhoun and ETSU Vice President for Health Affairs Ron Franks traveled to San Diego to appear before the ACPE board of directors in hopes of obtaining pre-candidate accreditation status, the highest level a new college is eligible to obtain.
"This vote of confidence from ACPE demonstrates that we are meeting the highest standards of pharmacy education for a developing program," Calhoun said in a news release. "Upon informing us of their decision, ACPE was very complimentary of ETSU's work thus far, and they believe that we are poised to have an exceptional school for pharmacy education."
An ACPE team conducted an on-site review of ETSU's program in October and developed a report on ETSU's readiness for the board. Calhoun and Franks attended the board meeting in San Diego to respond to any questions.
The dean expected to learn of any concerns the board had about ETSU's program in a full report from the ACPE within a few weeks. He said the organization would assign ETSU target dates for the college to apply for candidate status, including a second site visit within 12 to 18 months and an appearance before the board.
With candidate status approved, ETSU would be eligible to apply for full accreditation after graduating its first class of students in spring 2010. Even without full accreditation, he said, candidate status would make ETSU pharmacy graduates eligible to take state board exams toward licensure.
Along with the accreditation process, Calhoun said, the administration was focused on adjusting plans for remodeling the college's future home, Building 7 at Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
With a $7.5 million budget for the overall project, officials had estimated renovation costs at about $5.7 million. But last week the lowest bid came in about $1 million over the target.
The dean said pharmacy school leaders would be working with ETSU physical plant staff members and architects to retool plans and the budget for the Tennessee Board of Regents' approval in hopes of getting work under way soon.
"I'm confident we'll be able to do that in short order," Calhoun said.
College leaders hope to occupy the building by spring 2008. In the interim, the pharmacy school is sharing office and classroom space on the VA campus with ETSU's James H. Quillen College of Medicine.