Metro

Boston pharmacy program put on probation

The MCPHS University in Boston has been placed on academic probation for having too few professors and overcrowded buildings.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff
The MCPHS University in Boston has been placed on academic probation for having too few professors and overcrowded buildings.

The signature pharmacy degree program at MCPHS University in Boston has been placed on academic probation because of overcrowded buildings and not enough professors, according to the accreditors and the school.

The Fenway-based university, previously called the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, runs the second-oldest pharmacy school in the nation and has expanded to other areas of study in recent years.

Loss of accreditation, while generally rare, would be a blow to the school’s reputation and make it harder for graduates to get jobs.

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Accreditors give schools on probation a period of up to two years to meet the standards. School officials said they are correcting the problems, but students are worried about how the probation could affect their ability to graduate and get jobs.

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MCPHS University has about 7,000 students, and the average size of an entering class in the pharmacy program is 330 students.

“The fact that its accreditation is on probation is definitely concerning, at the very least. It’s scary,” said Anthony Branco, who just finished his third year.

Branco and other students said they didn’t need accreditors to tell them about the overcrowding. They have been telling administrators about those problems for years with no luck, he said Thursday.

The doctor of pharmacy program was placed on probation by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education at its June meeting, according to the report of proceedings posted on the council’s website.

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The pharmacy school was one of four schools assigned probationary status at that meeting. The probation came after the school’s routine review in 2015-16 turned up problems the school failed to remedy, according to a timeline on the accreditation council’s website.

The Boston pharmacy program fell short of four standards for accreditation. Those areas have to do with the number of faculty and staff, the quality of the school’s physical facilities, measuring students’ post-graduation success, and the school’s internal organization.

More specific information about the shortcomings is sent directly to the school and not made public by accreditors.

The university’s provost acknowledged the shortcomings Thursday in a statement sent to the Globe by a spokesman. Provost George Humphrey said the school plans to report back to accreditors in the fall.

“The university is very confident that the steps that we have taken to date, as well as those that are in process, will be successful,” Humphrey said in the statement.

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The accreditation council changed its standards in 2016, and Humphrey said MCPHS along with all pharmacy programs are adjusting to the new standards. He said the school is “aggressively addressing” three areas of concern from accreditors: academic space, assessment of student learning, and the number of faculty.

The school has construction projects underway to add classrooms, offices, and student study areas that will open this fall and next, his statement said. The school has hired five new faculty and is conducting searches to fill other vacancies. It has also added staff and data systems that will allow the school to better test students’ learning, he wrote.

Meanwhile, he said all entering and current students who graduate will be eligible for board examinations and licensure.

As of late Thursday, the school had not notified students of the probation. After questions from the Globe, the school sent an e-mail to students on Friday morning.

The e-mail said the probation will have no effect on students who are already enrolled.

“We are very confident that the steps that we have taken to date, as well as those that are in process, will be successful,” wrote Paul DiFrancesco, dean of the pharmacy school.

MCPHS University is known for its pharmacy programs but has expanded dramatically in the past 10 years, accepting more students and offering a variety of health care degrees.

Tuition for the pharmacy PhD program is about $32,000 per year for the first two years and $37,000 for the last four.

Financial rating agencies have given the university strong marks. In 2014, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the school’s status to its highest rating, A1, with a positive outlook. In 2015, the agency cited a sustained trend of “exceptionally strong operating performance” that contributed to a rapid increase in financial resources and growing enrollment. Enrollment in the fall of 2014 was 6,674 compared to 1,737 in 2000, according to Moody’s.

But the rating agency also said the school’s challenges stem from the fact that it depends almost entirely on student tuition for revenue, faces a very competitive student market, and has poor fund-raising performance compared to peers.

In recent years, the school, which has opened a campus in Worcester and a satellite campus in Manchester, N.H., has focused on international and online education and added undergraduate and graduate health-related programs in a variety of formats, such as accelerated programs and first-year English programs for foreign students.

In 2014, pharmacy students represented 55 percent of the student body compared to 79 percent 10 years ago, according to Moody’s.

Branco and other students said they believe the program admits more students than it can handle — leading to crowded classes — though some leave before graduating.

The university, known for graduating students who can get jobs with good salaries, would not disclose its acceptance rate for the pharmacy program when asked on Thursday. Humphrey said there is no single rate because it receives applications from multiple sources including transfer students.

The university’s overall acceptance rate is 87 percent, according to federal data available online.

Overcrowding creates small problems, like not being able to find a spot to study in the library, and larger ones, like an over-saturation of the pharmacy job market in the region, students said.

Concerned students have attended a meeting of the student government association to voice their concerns but have a hard time reaching the president, Charles F. Monahan Jr., according to Branco and others. Students want the school to be stricter with admissions and to build more buildings.

“He’s not receptive at all,” Branco said. “He doesn’t talk to any of the students.”

Another student, Alicia Tran, received the e-mail on Friday morning and said she is glad the school will address the problems.

“I am glad to see that students will also be given the opportunity to voice their opinions because I know many have great ideas to help better our school,” she wrote.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.