I started my response to the attached Evan Jones article on 2015 law school enrollment predictions as a brief comment, but before I could stop myself, it turned into what sounds more like a manifesto for the future of California Accredited Law Schools (CALS). I thought that you might find it interesting.
Why MCL (and CALS) is thriving while Rome (the ABA) is Burning
The attached article is predicting another 8-10% drop in ABA enrollment for 2015 and flat enrollment, at best, for 2016. That sounds about right to me, except that it doesn’t factor in the effect of higher attrition and/or falling bar pass rates for ABA schools that lowered their admission standards in recent years to meet admission (and revenue) goals. Those classes will start cycling through bar exams over the next three years. The cumulative effect is likely to continue to drive down enrollment at ABA schools that either: 1) are not in the top tier; 2) haven’t identified and secured a niche market; and/or 3) haven’t re-tooled their curriculum and academic support to meet the challenges of a changing student cohort. This supports my theory that we will begin to see lower-tier ABA schools closing for the first time in US history. If this comes to pass, it will only add fuel to the fire of diminishing ABA law school enrollment.
What does this dire forecast mean for Monterey College of Law (in particular) and California Accredited Law Schools (in general)?
MCL and most of the CALS are perfectly positioned to move counter-cyclical to the ABA legal education market. The more we can continue to distinguish ourselves from the failing ABA law school model, the more resilient we will be over the next 3-5 years. Where the ABA schools are fat (highly paid tenured faculty), we are lean (part-time adjunct faculty). Where they have a calcified traditional curriculum (reflective of the self-interest of tenured faculty), we are nimble (increased clinical programs, ADR training, and integration of skills training into traditional courses – the result of having skilled practitioner-based adjunct faculty). Where they have used attrition to respond to lower-performing students, we have enhanced our academic support programs to reduce attrition. Where they continue to rely on a delivery method that is proven to be ineffective (“Sage on the stage” with monolithic final exams), we have made steps towards integrating additional writing, practical exercises, and assessment quizzes. Where they refuse to acknowledge the integration of technology into graduate education, we have the opportunity to be innovative in the development of hybrid classrooms that mix on-line and in-class curriculum. Where they continue to fight against outcome-based measurements (integrated bar exam preparedness), we continue to integrate bar preparedness into our supplemental curriculum, tutorial program, grading rubrics, and academic support materials. Where their graduate’s job prospects are at all-time lows, we continue to nurture the close relationships with our local bench and bar that result in quality job opportunities for our graduates (and have launched a unique incubator program that integrates new-graduate job training into a modest-means community service program in partnership with the local bar association). Where they have continued to escalate tuition (California 2013 ABA median tuition cost is $131,000), we continue to deliver a quality degree program at a great value (CALS 2013 median tuition cost is $59,000 – for comparison, MCL’s 2013 tuition cost was $66,600 and our 2014 tuition cost is $68,000).
Filling the “Justice Gap”
The “justice gap” in our communities has never been greater . . . and it continues to grow. In Monterey County, it is reported that there are no practicing lawyers between Salinas and Paso Robles. If this is true, think about the career potential for bilingual and bicultural graduates of MCL in places where there are entire communities that are underserved and unrepresented. The migration of lawyers away from small communities is going on all across California. This is where MCL and other CALS are the solution. Local lawyers for local communities . . . it was the reason that MCL and most of the CALS were originally founded . . . and it is even more the reason for us to prosper while large urban ABA law schools fail to recognize the changing academic and market dynamics facing American legal education.
MCL and most of the CALS are positioned to be the new model of legal education. High quality, regionally focused, academically innovative, reasonably priced law schools that are practice-oriented and reflect the needs and values of their surrounding communities.
The traditional ABA model of legal education may be in decline . . . but this is the time for MCL and CALS to move out of the shadows and into the spotlight of legal education.
Law School Application Predictions for 2015 and 2016
by Evan Jones, LawSchooli
The ABA recently released it’s yearly enrollment statistics, showing that enrollment has plunged yet again this year, bringing enrollment to a record 27-year low. 37,924 full-time and part-time students began law school this fall, a 4.4 percent drop from last-year. All told, approximately 15,ooo fewer 1Ls will walk through the doors then did in 2010, when a record high 52,488 students started law school.
In 1973—the last time enrollment was this low—only 151 ABA accredited law schools existed. Now, 205 fully accredited schools compete for the same size stock.
“As of 1/09/15, there are 135,408 fall 2015 applications submitted by 19,904 applicants. Applicants are down 8.5% and applications are down 10.8% from 2014. Last year at this time, we had 40% of the preliminary final applicant count.”
The number of applications can get lower, and projecting from these numbers, it’s appears likely it will. UNC law professor Alfred Brophy, a frequent commentator on law school admissions, predicts, “If this year’s applicants follow last year’s pattern, we’ll have approximately 49,760 total applicants for the class entering in fall 2015… if the applicants continue to be down about 8.5%, total first year enrollment next fall of 35,000-36,000 sounds about right to me. Probably a lot closer to 35,000 than 36,000.”
For 2016, which some applicants may already have their eyes set on, I would expect at most a flattening rather than any large reversal of this declining enrollment. Demographic shifts in education tend to take place slowly, and the underlying factors that have led to declining applications remain in place.