In a dramatic move to address concerns about rising tuition costs, the University of Massachusetts School of Law-Dartmouth announced on June 21 that it would freeze tuition and fees for three years.

That means annual tuition for full-time in-state students will remain at $23,068 through the 2014-15 academic year, while tuition and fees for out-of-state residents will be $30,760. Average tuition for in-state students at public law schools was $22,116 in 2011, according to the American Bar Association. The average was $34,865 for non-resident students.

“As the commonwealth’s first public law school, we have a mission to provide individuals with the aspiration, talents and will to succeed as citizen lawyers the opportunity to achieve their dream,” said UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean MacCormack. “Freezing fees at this moment in the law school’s history, given the significant base resources that the school has started with, and recognizing that we are just beginning our journey, is the right and smart thing to do.”

The law school is the product of a 2010 merger between the Southern New England School of Law and the University of Massachusetts. Several of the state’s seven private law schools opposed the merger, but advocates said it would it would improve access to legal education by offering a lower-cost alternative.

On June 12, the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar announced that it had granted provision accreditation to the school, meaning its graduates may sit for the bar in any state, rather than be limited to Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Mary Lu Bilek, who will assume the school’s deanship on July 1, said that public law schools have an obligation not only to be affordable for students but also to produce civic-minded lawyers.

“By controlling the cost of their education, we open up many more options for them,” Bilek said. “Graduating from UMass Law, they will be able to consider using their skills for public and civic purpose because they will not be as heavily burdened by debt.”

The school will also offer merit-based and need-based scholarships.

Although most law schools are raising tuition levels, that doesn’t mean students necessarily will pay more to attend them. Many are offering more merit scholarships than they have in the past, meaning students will pay less than the sticker price.

Additionally, a few are trying to contain tuition increases by as much as possible. For example, Northwestern University School of Law will charge 3 percent more next year — its lowest percentage increase in 40 years.

Other law schools began freezing tuition in 2010, starting with the University of Miami School of Law. The following year, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, the University of New Hampshire School of Law and Ave Maria School of Law froze tuition. However, those freezes were for one year only — no other school has committed itself to a multiyear freeze.

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