Attending the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law is about to become more affordable for in-state residents.
The law school has announced a new program—the Commonwealth Scholars—that will cut annual tuition by $20,000 for Pennsylvanians, reducing the total cost of a juris doctor by $60,000.
The program is intended to make the law school, which has campuses in Carlisle and University Park, Penn., more attractive to in-state applicants. Among the state’s three public law schools, Penn State is currently the only one that doesn’t offer a lower tuition to Pennsylvania residents—a holdover from the school’s former days as the private Dickinson School of Law.
The program will offer a $20,000 annual tuition grant to all Pennsylvania residents who are admitted into the law school. The grant is separate from the school’s scholarship program, and grant recipients may also be considered for additional financial aid.
With the in-state discount, Penn State’s annual tuition will drop from about $41,000 to $21,000. By comparison, current tuition for resident students at the Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia is nearly $20,000 while the University of Pittsburgh School of Law charges resident students nearly $30,000 in annual tuition.
Penn State law interim dean James Houck said cost is the most common reason students offer for choosing to attend other area law schools.
“We have a superb academic program with some of the nation’s finest classroom teachers and experiential learning opportunities,” Houck said. “Yet our research shows that some individuals are unable to take advantage of it because of cost. This program will increase access to legal education for well-qualified Pennsylvania residents who otherwise may not have considered us.”
The tuition reduction also comes amid a difficult recruiting climate for law schools nationwide. The number of applicants to American Bar Association-accredited law schools fell 32 percent between 2009 and 2013. Penn State was hit particularly hard this year amid uncertainty about the law school’s future.
Earlier this year, university officials and law school leaders agreed to split the two campuses into separate law schools with different leadership. Currently, students may take classes at either campus and they share a single administration. The split is expected to occur in 2015. Potential applicants last year may have been put off by discussions about consolidating all first-year classes at the law school’s University Park campus—an idea that never got off the ground, Houck said.
New student enrollment at the two campuses fell to 132 this fall, a decrease of 38 percent from a year ago. The Carlisle campus took the biggest hit, with the number of new students falling from 55 to 34 this year. The law school’s outpost at University Park saw new enrollment fall six percent, to 98 students.
Administrators hope that lowering in-state tuition costs will help the school bring in a larger class of new students next fall and reverse the decline.
“We’re not a law school factory, but we would like to have more students,” Houck said.
Penn State’s focus on reducing in-state tuition is in contrast to several other public law schools that have recently lowered out-of-state tuition in a bid to draw more applicants from around the country.
The University of Akron School of Law this year essentially dropped its nonresident tuition to that of what Ohio residents pay, and the University of Cincinnati College of Law this summer dropped nonresident tuition by 30 percent.
Though Commonwealth Scholars focuses on Pennsylvania residents, Houck said the school plans to bolster its recruitment of out-of-state students by offering more financial aid. Pennsylvanians currently comprise about half of the school’s enrollment.
Commonwealth Scholars program is available only to new applicants, not current students. Students who remain in good academic standing will retain the grants all the years.