ETSU President Brian Noland speaks on a bill that would put the college’s pharmacy program on equal footing with UT.

JOHNSON CITY - East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland said Wednesday a bill would be filed on the college’s behalf in the Tennessee General Assembly to create a scholarship that would put the college’s pharmacy school on equal footing with the University of Tennessee.

“It’s a matter of equity and fairness,” Noland said during a press conference Wednesday in the President’s Conference Room at ETSU.

Records show that students who attend ETSU’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy pay more than $60,000 more over a four-year period than students who attend the University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy.

Noland said that gap can be tightened through a simple state-funded scholarship that would require around $2.5 million annually.

This is the second time the bill will be presented to the Tennessee legislature. ETSU filed a bill asking for a scholarship last year, but it stalled out in committee.

Noland said last year “set the stage” and he has been in Nashville speaking with the governor as well as other legislators.

“Our hope is the state will see the important role we play and the state will make an investment into those students,” Noland said.

Debbie Byrd, dean of the college, emphasized that a scholarship program is entirely for the benefit of the in-state students who may want to attend the school.

“It’s revenue neutral,” she said. “It doesn’t bring in any additional dollars.”

She said the college doesn’t plan to increase class size.

“Truly it is to assist students in this region,” she said.

The college has about 300 students and was started in 2005. Fifty percent of those enrolled in Gatton College of Pharmacy are first-generation college students and one-third of those enrolled come from rural zip codes, the school stated.

The reason for the price difference is when the school was approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education in 2005 it was under the stipulation it would receive no state funding.

ETSU officials said there is one disadvantage in enrolling under the University of Tennessee system.

The first year, those students who enroll at UT must first go to school in Memphis before coming to Knoxville to finish their degree.

Noland said he’s optimistic that a new governor and new legislature would be open to hearing about the benefits a scholarship program would be for ETSU students. He said it’s still early in the legislative process, so there would be time for lobbying the state until the session closes around June.

Noland said he is hopeful the bill will pass through the legislature, but he is also realistic. He said early in his career he worked with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission when the lottery was debated back and forth for years.

“That took the better part of a decade,” he said. “And it may take us multiple times to tell our story. But, we will tell the story again and again and again.”