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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Will Other Law Schools Follow UC-Hastings' Lead: 20% Class Size Cut, 15% Tuition Increase

UC Hastings LogoFollowing up on Friday's Post, UC-Hastings Reduces Incoming Class by 20%, Cuts 27 Staff Positions:

Frank Wu doesn’t mince words. “The critics of legal education are right,” said Wu, the chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “There are too many law schools and there are too many law students and we need to do something about that.”

So he is. Starting this fall, Hastings will admit 20% fewer students than in years past, a decision that required the college to eliminate several staff positions. No faculty members lost their jobs. ...

Hastings is arguably the most prestigious law school to announce such a plan, joining a trio of law colleges [Albany, Creighton, Touro] that rolled out reductions last year. Nationally, far fewer students are taking admissions tests and applying to law schools. ...  That trend is projected to continue for the foreseeable future, while those who do attend often graduate with plenty of debt but few job opportunities.

The remedy, Wu believes, is to “reboot the system.” The shift comes at a time when law schools are confronting an upending of their business model and a public relations disaster. ...

Jim Chen, dean of the University of Louisville’s law school, can empathize with Wu’s dilemma. Demand from both prospective students and employers is decreasing, and it makes sense that Hastings is trying to adjust to the market. But Chen is skeptical that other law colleges will be rushing to – or even allowed to -- intentionally reduce their revenues. “I’m totally understanding of what Hastings is trying to accomplish and I’m very sympathetic to the idea that you don’t want to admit more people into a declining [job] market,” Chen said. “How you manage to do that without the revenue is going to pose a very formidable challenge for most American law schools.”

But Paul Caron, a visiting law professor at Pepperdine University and a legal blogger who has criticized law schools for failing to make changes as the job market eroded, believes this is the way of the future. While few law schools are trumpeting plans to cut enrollment, Caron expects such practices to become widespread over the next several years. The alternative, he said, is to accept students with lower qualifications and even worse job outlooks.

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, a policy organization working to reduce the cost of legal education, lauded Hastings' decision and suggested more schools will be doing the same in coming years. Those reductions will be either by choice, McEntee said, or by default as fewer students enroll. Susan Westerberg Prager, director of the Association of American Law Schools, did not respond to a message seeking comment. ...

If all goes according to plan, Hastings’ job placement metrics will increase, which could lead to a boost in national rankings. Perhaps just as important, Wu said underqualified students will be discouraged from pursuing a law degree when they might struggle to graduate, pass the bar exam or find a job. Other law schools, he said, would be smart to follow suit to the extent their situation allows.

National Law Journal, Hastings College cutbacks a response to legal education's 'crisis':

Fewer students will cost Hastings $2.1 million in tuition revenue, and so in March it eliminated the equivalent of 23 full-time positions, some through layoffs. The law school's budget office and library staff saw the biggest employee cuts.

No faculty positions were eliminated — and the school plans to add faculty members next year, Wu said. As evidence that Hastings is in "robust financial condition right now," he noted that the school implemented a 5% pay raise this year for all non-faculty employees. ...

The changes haven't gone over well with everyone. After the staff layoffs were announced in March, a group called Students for a Better Hastings hosted a town hall meeting to air their concerns about rising tuition, student body diversity and the financial health of the law school. ...

In December, the school's trustees voted to increase in-state tuition by 15% next year, from $40,653 to $46,575. Non-resident tuition will increase [7%] from $49,153 to $52,575.

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We need price controls in higher ed.

Posted by: gogo | May 1, 2012 4:08:18 PM