Applicant numbers drop for law school, Graduate College

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | MARCH 10, 2009 7:27 AM

Recent tallies indicate the UI’s College of Law received 10 percent fewer applications than last year, and the UI’s Graduate College has experienced an 8 percent dip. Despite falling numbers, university officials aren’t too concerned.

“We’re in good shape,” said Collins Byrd, assistant dean of admissions for UI’s College of Law. “[UI law students] are going to do just fine.”

Byrd said he believes the high quality of the UI’s program protects it from the volatility of the nation’s current economic crisis.

With a similar confidence, Graduate College Dean John Keller said he thinks these preliminary statistics are nothing to be alarmed about. The number of applications for the 2009-10 academic year are similar to those recorded three years ago, he said.

The 8 percent drop is due to high applicant numbers in the previous year.

“The last two years could have been a blip the other way,” Keller said. “[The decrease] just might be a moderation of that trend.”

However, these data defy traditional trends.

John Geweke, a UI economics professor and the director of the UI Institute of Economic Research, notes postsecondary education is “counter-cyclical,” in which higher unemployment generally drives more people to go to school.

Byrd said the UI’s atypical numbers are due to a quadruple-sided blow from the nation’s financial situation and crises in the credit, mortgage, and banking markets. He said he believes such dire financial situations have prospective students questioning whether incurring the substantial debt that comes with higher education is a smart decision, especially because financing law school is done largely through loans.

Despite unusual trends, both Byrd and Keller believe the decrease will not affect the end product.

Keller noted the Graduate College will maintain its enrollment of approximately 5,000 graduate students, and the College of Law will stick to its 200-student enrollment.

Yet as the application pool slims down, graduate programs may ultimately benefit from the drop.
Keller predicted if decreasing application numbers continue, his department will run analyses on the “peaks and valleys” of the program and use that information to do restructuring.

Similarly, Byrd has seen higher-quality applicants this year over the last. He believes people are using more discretion — applying only after evaluating whether they are truly qualified for law school and only pursuing programs into which they will likely be accepted.

Even though the implications of decreasing applicants does not paint a bleak picture, Geweke said he believes it may pose a different, more immediate issue.

“It’s a big problem for universities because they don’t know how to interpret [the trend],” Geweke said. “This is a big headache for those doing admissions because they are less certain on the yield.”

Indeed, as a member of the admissions staff, Byrd said striking a balance in the “complicated matrix” of the admissions process is going to be difficult.

“This year is one of the more challenging years any admissions officer has seen,” Byrd said.

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