JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Students and administrators are praising the successful conclusion of a multi-year effort to obtain recurring state funding for East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.

A 33-0 vote in the Tennessee Senate on Thursday on a final budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 made that funding official, and the Gatton College of Pharmacy will receive $2.5 million.

“The investment the state made today was an investment in the students of Gatton, and for that we’re deeply appreciative,” ETSU President Brian Noland told News Channel 11 a couple of hours after the Senate vote.

He said the area’s legislative delegation has “really championed this, this year and in the years prior.”

Noland said Reps. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville), Tim Hicks (R-Gray), and Rebecca Alexander (R-Jonesborough) have led the charge on the House side, with Sens. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) leading efforts in the Senate.

Then-Gov. Phil Bredesen said he’d approve the establishment of an ETSU-affiliated pharmacy school if it was privately funded, and the school was established in 2005. It’s operated as a state school but with no state financial support ever since.

ETSU officials plan to use the funds to narrow a large tuition gap between the Gatton College of Pharmacy and Tennessee’s other state-operated pharmacy school at Memphis. Since a funding bump at Memphis four years ago, out-of-state Memphis students pay $10,000 less per year than Gatton counterparts. The in-state difference is $15,000.

ETSU Gatton College of Pharmacy enrollment has declined 29% in the three years since Tennessee added funds allowing University of Tennessee’s Memphis pharmacy school to decrease out-of-state tuition. (WJHL Photo)

“100% of the resources that were provided today, pending the signatory of the governor, will move through to students,” Noland said, adding that about half of Gatton’s roughly 210 students are first-generation college attendees.

Noland said ETSU staff will work through data regarding the numbers of in-state and out-of-state students over the next few weeks before a called board of trustees meeting in May.

“But what this means for students of Gatton is, next fall your tuition and fee rates will be lowered,” he said.

Enrollment at Gatton began declining steadily four years ago after Tennessee’s legislature approved additional funding for the Memphis pharmacy school that allowed it to decrease tuition by almost $15,000 a year starting with the 2019-2020 school year.

Rep. Gary Hicks chairs the House’s Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee and has helped lead efforts to address the gap. He proposed an amendment to add $2.9 million a year in funding in 2022 but that effort failed.

This year, ETSU officials requested about $5 million, which they said would completely level the playing field. They’ll get about half of that.

This week’s vote was the result of several years of what Noland described as “a lot of basic grassroots blocking and tackling.”

“Students have written letters, we’ve called elected officials, we’ve had more meetings in Nashville than I can even begin to describe, but that process has been a wonderful process of telling the story of a community institution, a college that started because of the support of this community,” he said.

Based on current enrollment, the tuition decrease could average more than $11,000 per student, bringing that cost much closer to what students at the Memphis campus of the University of Tennessee pay.

“This makes an outstanding college more affordable,” Noland said.

First-year student Samira Allaf told News Channel 11 that lower tuition could even impact her future career.

“It will take the stress off of having to pay for student loans, and having to think about going to a different job location that’s out of this area for me, because of worrying about money,” said Allaf.

Mackenzie Johnson, a first-year student from Mountain City, said this funding will help the college compete with other public pharmacy schools.

“This funding will make it to where we are on the same playing field as other institutions in regards to our tuition,” said Johnson.