TaxProf Blog

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Demise of Dickinson Law School?

Penn State Logo (2013)Paul Campos (Colorado) speculates that the current plan to divide Penn State Dickinson School of Law into two separate ABA-accredited law schools is doomed to fail in light of plummeting student enrollment and skyrocketing expenses:

While the faculty was fighting over the wedding china and custody of the kids, enrollment and revenue were both collapsing. The two campus model was premised on having around 700 JD students enrolled at any particular time, while jacking up tuition drastically (it went from $25,500 in 2004 to $42,000 this year). The school enrolled first year classes of between 205 and 230 students in the late aughts, but over the last three years enrollments have plunged. This fall PSU 132 students matriculated at the two campuses, with just 34 of those matriculants beginning their legal educations in Carlisle’s new $50 million digs. ...

Not surprisingly, this whole operation is currently bleeding red ink at what I’m told PSU’s central administrators consider an unacceptable rate. Student-faculty ratio has plunged from 17.3 to 1 in 2004 to 8.8 to 1 in 2013. ... The school is spending millions of dollars a year more than it’s bringing in — perhaps $10 million more this fiscal year — and apparently things are going to get worse before they get better, because PSU announced this week that it’s cutting tuition in half for Pennsylvania residents. ...

From a financial perspective this can’t and won’t work. Why then, given this ongoing collapse in law school operating revenue is, the university choosing to greatly increase operating costs, by forgoing all the economies of scale generated by being a single law school with two campuses? Now PSU will have to finance two separate law school administrations, two admissions processes, two career services operations, two development offices, etc. etc. Why would PSU’s central administration agree to this obviously untenable arrangement?

One possible answer is gross administrative negligence, which, given the current state of higher education in general, is a theory that has Occam’s Razor to recommend it. I suspect the real answer is rather more Machiavellian. On this account, the faculty divorce is providing central with an opportunity to downsize PSU’s law school operations relatively — at least from central’s perspective — painlessly. Once it has been spun off, the Carlisle version of the school will simply be allowed to die (recall that the campus can be closed in a little more than six years from now if the university declares a financial exigency), thereby permitting PSU to offload around a third of its tenured faculty all at once. The physical plant will be sold off to Dickinson College for pennies on the dollar, the university’s budget will unburden itself of about a dozen expensive faculty lines, and the Dickinson College of Law, will, after nearly two centuries, cease to exist.

It may well be that the Carlisle faculty — who are for the most part quite senior -- even recognize this, and would prefer to run out the clock in this fashion, rather than remain tied to their State College brethren. We shall see.


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I 100% agree.
-PSU, '07, DSL PSU '10

Posted by: Chad | Nov 26, 2013 7:35:12 PM

Lawyers, sue each other. You'll all become rich.

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Nov 27, 2013 1:00:14 AM

PSU tried to close Dickenson years ago but was forced to keep it open after the state intervened. They would be thrilled to shut it down.

Posted by: Bill | Nov 27, 2013 4:47:13 AM

This is exactly the same strategy Penn State attempted to shore up losses from its college of medicine/Hershey Medical Center through its failed merger with Geisinger Health System, which was another administrative disaster. Gross administrative negligence, coupled with an arrogance and sense of superiority that makes them impossible to work with, is the normal order of business at PSU. The Sandusky/Paterno business didn't happen in a vacuum.

Posted by: mark | Nov 27, 2013 6:05:00 AM

The incompetent Republican Governor is killing Pennsylvania, piece by piece. I am continually amazed how the Republicans continue to deflect blame on women, children, minorities, and gays.

Posted by: Brian G. | Nov 27, 2013 8:50:51 AM