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Law school enrollment numbers down nationally and locally

BY SHIANNE GRUSS | SEPTEMBER 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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In the midst of a multimillion dollar improvement campaign and a nationwide decrease in applicants and job opportunities for law graduates, the University of Iowa College of Law is revamping its program to meet the needs of a smaller student body.

Since 2010, the college, which is located in the Boyd Law Building, has seen a roughly 24 percent decrease in incoming class size, in comparison with a more than 38 percent national decline in total enrollment, according to the Law School Admission Council.

The nonprofit organization assists in national law school admission processes and is best know for administering the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

The UI law school was for a long time immune to national statistics, but it saw its first significant decrease this year, said Dean Gail Agrawal.

“Given the national trend, we knew it was coming, and our plan for responding to it was to maintain the high quality of the class rather than its size,” she said.

Officials estimate a total of 422 students to be enrolled in the college this fall — a 20 percent decrease from last year and the first time dipping below 500 in the past four years.

UI spokesman Tom Moore pegged the recent drop in university enrollment numbers to the law school.

“A major factor appears to be a decline in the number of students enrolling in the College of Law, which reflects a national trend that seems to be occurring as a result of decreased opportunities in the profession,” he said.

Among national figures, Moore said one-third fewer students are taking the LSAT, which in turn has led to there being a smaller pool of well-qualified candidates for law schools to consider.

In October 2012, the college launched a $50 million fundraising campaign, designed to fund programs in the law school, as well as a new student commons in the Boyd Law Building.

Agrawal said the college plans to incorporate more legal writing into the curriculum as well as introduce a new simulcast classroom, providing live instruction and discussion when students and teachers are not able to meet in person.

 “A new early matriculation program will allow highly qualified undergraduate juniors to come to law school in their senior year, saving one year of study and tuition,” she said.

The college is also awaiting approval of a Doctor for Juridical Science program.

Milly Dick, a second-year J.D. student, said she came to the UI versus a college in her home state of Virginia due to cost.

“I realized through my work that I really wanted to be a lawyer, that there were things that I wanted to do that I could not do without having a Juris Doctor, and that going to law school was a worthwhile risk to take,” Dick said.

Tuition at the UI has increased 20 percent for residents and about 17 percent for nonresidents since 2008.

The 2013-14 tuition costs are $28,047 for residents and $49,025 for nonresidents.

But while UI law student Ellen Tolsma recognizes the cost, she said she remains optimistic about her future.

“I am going into a field that will be able to support the amount of debt I am taking on,” she said. “I worry a little, but I have hopes.”

According to the UI College of Law statistics, out of 174 employed 2012 graduates, the mean salary was $69,934. Just 17 of those students were seeing the six-figure salary most law students look forward to.

Dick said it is important for students to take costs into consideration versus job prospects.

“Essentially graduate school is an investment, and I think people are realizing that it is not always worth it,” she said.


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