Chronicle of Higher Education, As Law School Struggles to Stay Open, Some See ‘a Canary in the Coal Mine’:
Much has been written about the sky-high debts facing law-school graduates, who face difficult odds in landing jobs that will help pay off their loans. But students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law are among the first who are contemplating the possibility of a get-out-of-debt-free card that no one’s eager to cash in.
It would apply only if the law school, which is struggling to restructure a $133-million debt, were to close—a prospect the private, stand-alone school in downtown San Diego is determined to avert. After failing to make a June payment, the school was given a reprieve until October 17 but ordered to pay an additional $2-million. ...
The number of applicants to law schools accredited by the American Bar Association plummeted 45 percent from 2004 to 2014, according to preliminary figures released by the association. By 2013, first-year enrollment had slid about 18 percent, a devastating decline for schools, like Thomas Jefferson, that depend heavily on tuition.
As Thomas Jefferson struggles to remain afloat, Michael A. Olivas, a former president of the Association of American Law Schools, suggested it may be "a canary in the coal mine of legal education." The nation has too many law schools, said Mr. Olivas, who is also a professor of law at the University of Houston, and he expects some will close in the next several years. "I believe there will be, in all likelihood, about a half-dozen schools that are on anybody’s watch list," he said.
The number of ABA-accredited schools has grown from 182 in 1999 to 204 today (three of those are provisionally accredited), and there are dozens of additional schools that are either accredited by individual states or unaccredited. California has 21 ABA-accredited schools, including Thomas Jefferson, and a few dozen unaccredited schools whose graduates can sit for the state’s bar exam.
Located in a state saturated with lawyers and with a bar exam that is notoriously tough, Thomas Jefferson’s statistics this year have been grim. The number of entering students dropped 43 percent, from 422 in 2010 to 242 this fall. Fewer than three in 10 the school’s 2013 graduates landed full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law degree nine months after graduation, and the average law-school debt for its graduates that year was more than $181,000, the highest of any law school nationwide, according to U.S. News & World Report. ...
Thomas Jefferson is hardly alone in its struggles. Other law schools suffering sharp enrollment declines in recent years include those at the University of La Verne and the Catholic University of America, as well as New York Law School. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, with five campuses in Michigan and Florida, defied gravity for years, opening a new campus in Florida two years ago even as other law schools were scaling back their enrollments. The school, which accepts more than 80 percent of its applicants, saw enrollment plummet 41 percent from 2010 to 2013, from 3,931 to 2,334, according to a report this year in National Jurist. This fall it stopped accepting first-term students on its Ann Arbor campus as part of a plan that includes faculty and staff layoffs across its four Michigan campuses. Now it’s considering shutting down the Ann Arbor campus.
A spokesman for Thomas Cooley, James D. Robb, said the school had made an "internal decision" not to divulge how many people had been laid off. But he insisted that now is "a great time" to apply to law schools.
(Hat Tip: John Edwards.)