News reports show that the law school enrollment crisis is starting to affect the viability of schools in a big way. We’ve had the faculty/staff reduction stories for the past two years or so. The next set of reports identified lower admissions to the schools. The crisis there, of course, was whether to dilute numbers like LSAT scores and GPAs just to fill seats. It’s all problematic as dilution tends to affect US News rankings negatively. This, in turn, reflects on a school’s reputation which can affect application numbers.
Even as the application drop began several years ago pundits were predicting school closings and other dire reactions. Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the latest statistics:
As of 4/24/15, there are 317,748 fall 2015 applications submitted by 47,577 applicants. Applicants are down 2.5% and applications are down 4.6% from 2014.
Last year at this time, we had 90% of the preliminary final applicant count.
That’s about 232 applicants per accredited law school on average. The volume of applications is 1550 per school, on average. Nonetheless, successful (read qualified) applicants can only attend one law school. The higher ranked schools get the benefit of those multiple applications. That drives what happens to the middle and bottom schools. There are only so many faculty and staff reductions a school can make before more desperate measures come into play. Here are a few.
Hamline School of Law and the William Mitchell College of Law will become the Mitchell|Hamline School of Law with operations mostly on the Mitchell campus. William Mitchel was ranked at 142 in a three-way tie and Hamline at 145 in a four-way tie. The merger may reflect a better expense/revenue figure for the combined schools, but likely not their ranking. The merger announcement was made in mid-February
The autonomous law schools at Rutgers Camden and Rutgers Newark are merging into a single law school. Classes will be taught at both locations some 90 miles apart. Rutgers-Camden was ranked 102 in a three-way tie and Rutgers-Newark was ranked 87 in a seven-way tie. The merger is not with its own political ramifications as there was a failed (and highly unpopular) attempt to transfer the Camden school to Rowan University in 2010. The merger announcement was made in mid-April.
The most drastic reaction to the application crisis may hit the Charleston School of Law in South Carolina. The Post and Courier is reporting on a potential sale of the for-profit school to InfiLaw which is owned by a private equity firm. Questions remain whether the sale will gather the regulatory approvals that will allow the school to continue operating. The alternatives are pretty ugly in any event.
And the Next One?
The latest school that’s in financial trouble is the University of Massachusetts School of Law. The former Southern New England School of Law was absorbed by UMASS at Dartmouth in Dartmouth in 2010. That move was not without controversy as there was a lot of opposition, most notably from private law schools in the state, over whether taxpayers should support the state in running what would beits only public law school. The school was projected to be financially viable by 2014 with admissions doubling by 2017. The figures reported by the Boston Globe [subscription] show that the school has an $3.8 million deficit with its incoming class slashed by a third to 72 students. Projections show the deficit to widen next year. The school is provisionally accredited by the ABA.
[Correction posted from $8.3 million to the true figure of $3.8 million. I truly regret the error.]