Following approval of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy officially joined the Texas A&M Health Science Center in April 2006. Classes for the first 70 students in the College, located on the Texas A&M University-Kingsville campus, began in August 2006.
The College of Pharmacy is named for District 35 Rep. Irma Lerma Rangel, chair of the House Higher Education Committee who long fought for the first professional school in South Texas and died of cancer in March 2003. A groundbreaking on the three-story, 63,000-square-foot facility – featuring wireless access and research laboratories – occurred the same month Rangel died, and the College was officially named after her in October 2004.
Admission into a pharmacy program is highly competitive. Ninety-five colleges and schools nationwide, including Texas A&M-Kingsville, will offer the Pharm.D. as a first professional degree this coming fall, while there were 89 colleges and schools of pharmacy with accredited professional degree programs in fall 2005, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
There are six Texas schools, including Texas Southern, Texas Tech, the University of Houston, the University of the Incarnate Word and the University of Texas-Austin. The need for trained pharmacy professionals has exploded due to the rapid growth of the health care and pharmaceutical industries, especially for the growing elderly population. A shortfall of as many as 157,000 pharmacists nationwide is predicted by the year 2020, according to the Pharmacy Manpower Project, Inc. A report by the Texas Department of Health Education and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board indicates the Texas-Mexico border region has a population-to-pharmacist ratio of 1,700-to-1, 32 percent above the statewide ratio.
Still, opening the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy was a challenge. A bill creating the pharmacy school was passed in 2001, and tuition revenue bonds were authorized to finance building construction.
University officials asked for about $13 million in emergency appropriations from the Legislature for operational costs for the 2006-07 biennium. Although $10 million was included in the supplemental appropriations bill, at adjournment, funding was denied.
In 2004, the Texas A&M System Board of Regents committed $3.1 million to hire the initial cohort of faculty and prepare for full accreditation for the pharmacy school. Again, though, a lack of state funding for operations delayed the planned fall 2005 opening until fall 2006.
Faculty within the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy and HSC components will benefit from collaboration opportunities for basic science and translational research. In addition, the wealth of library resources the Health Science Center already has in place will serve to support both the educational and research missions of the College of Pharmacy.
Besides attracting future pharmacists, the new College could bring pharmaceutical companies in to study and develop drugs for diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. And, there are opportunities for cooperation between the United States and Mexico to improve border health care.