News: CJ Exclusives

Panel OKs ECU Dental School

Full Board of Governors must now approve panel recommendation

A University of North Carolina Board of Governors committee Thursday gave approval to plans for a dental school at East Carolina University. The full Board of Governors will vote today on whether to give final approval to the creation of the state’s second dental school.

Members of the Board of Governors’ Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs gave unanimous approval to the plan following a brief presentation by Alan Mabe, vice president for academic planning for the UNC system. Mabe’s presentation outlined the plan, accompanied by comments from a review committee that included dental experts from across the nation.

The push for a new dental school has been billed by supporters as an effort to alleviate the shortage of dentists in the state, especially in rural areas. The price tag for a new dental school at ECU is estimated at $90 million.

The plan, developed over an 18-month period by officials from UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry and ECU, calls for improvements to UNC-Chapel Hill’s dental school as well.

If the full Board of Governors approves the plan today it would free up $7 million in funds approved by the General Assembly earlier this year for dental education. The funding was placed on hold by legislators pending approval by the Board of Governors.

The ECU dental school initially would have a class of 50 students, according to the plan. It would take the school four years to reach its capacity of 200 students. The plan also calls for the creation eight to 10 service learning clinics that would be located in underserved areas, primarily in eastern North Carolina. Mabe said it’s possible some clinics could be opened in the western part of the state.

For UNC-Chapel Hill, the plan includes an increase in its dental school class size from 81 students to 100. It would also expand facilities and develop clinics, according to the proposed plan.

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry Dean John Williams said there were some “spirited debates” between UNC and ECU officials, but compromise was reached in order to provide assistance to dental needs in the state.

“We are looking at some innovative ideas,” Williams said. “We needed some innovative ideas.”

A review committee said the plan could be used as a model for others across the country. The review also states that the plan would not “adversely impact existing institutions or programs.”

“The plan provides for optimizing dental education and research programs at UNC-Chapel Hill and ECU while providing cost-effective services to needy populations,” the review committee said. “The outcome of these initiatives will be closely watched by leaders in other states and could provide solutions for these challenges nationwide.”

In discussing the plan, committee members spent little time addressing opposition by some dentists regarding the new school. Mabe told committee members that some of the opposition could be centered around concerns about whether a second school would be an effective use of resources, and also from some who wanted UNC-Chapel Hill to expand to compensate for increased dental-health needs in the state. He also said some dentists are concerned about an over-supply of dentists.

Mabe said class sizes at both schools would be adjusted over time based upon the state’s needs.

Shannon Blosser is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.