Indiana Tech Law School will close in May 2017, after just four years and two graduating classes.
Administrators announced to students and faculty on Monday that the university’s board of trustees voted unanimously to shutter the school at the end of the academic year, after struggling to attract students and facing a dismal bar-pass rate by the inaugural class.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for all involved,” said Indiana Tech President Arthur Snyder in a written statement. “Over the course of time it has become apparent that the significant decline in law school applicants nationwide represents a long term shift in the legal education field, not a short term one. Specific to Indiana Tech, the assessment of the board and our senior leadership team is that for the foreseeable future the law school will not be able to attract students in sufficient numbers for the school to remain viable.”
Snyder was at the helm of the university in 2011 when it decided to move forward with the new school, and defended the decision from critics questioning the wisdom of launching a law school in 2013 and in a state with four other law schools. Law school enrollment had already been declining for two years at that time—a slide that continues today.
But university leaders expressed confidence that the new school would fill an unmet need in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area and would educate new attorneys in a different, practice-focused way. The university spent $15 million on a new law building. But enrollment never met expectations, with the school drawing about 30 students in the first class, instead of the 100 for which it planned. Last fall, the school enrolled just 13 new students despite offering free-ride scholarships, and total enrollment currently stands at 71. The university has lost $20 million on the law school thus far, according to officials.
Indiana Tech becomes the first American Bar Association-accredited law school to fully close in at least the last 20 years, though the William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law merged in late 2015 to become Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Under ABA rules, the school must submit a “teach-out plan” that details how it will help current students transition to other law schools.
“The only surprise is that it took so long for Indiana Tech to pull the plug,” said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School and author of the 2012 book Failing Law Schools. “They opened their doors at the worst possible time, in the face of a severe contraction in the legal job market and a sharp decline in the number of applicants to law school.”
In June 2015, Indiana Tech failed to gain provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association on its first try, but it won provisional approval nine months later in March, allowing its first graduates to sit for the bar exam. The ABA initially expressed concern over the academic credentials of the school’s inaugural class, said law dean Charles Cercone.
But the bar proved to be yet another hurdle. Just three of the 13 2016 graduates who took the July bar exam passed. Officials said Monday that the low pass rate was among the many factors they considered when reaching their decision to close the school.
It’s not clear what the closure will mean for current Indiana Tech students. This fall’s entering class was the largest so far, with 50 students. Current third-year students will have the ability to graduate from Indiana Tech in May, and first- and second-year student can transfer at the end of the fall semester or at the end of the academic year. “Our first concern is for the law school students,” Snyder said. “We will be working hard on behalf of each of them to ensure that the process for transferring, for continuing their legal education, and ultimately earning their law degree takes place with as little disruption as possible.”
One of Indiana Tech’s primarily selling point was its relatively low cost. Tuition ran about $20,000 a year.
Mackaronis hinted that his client could bring a lawsuit against the university. He declined to name the faculty member he is representing, citing their fear of retaliation.
“Most of the faculty accepted their appointments at great professional risk based on the university’s oft-repeated, and unqualified commitment to the law school,” Mackaronis said. “[It’s] a complete betrayal of what the university and the board of trustees represented to the faculty, staff, and students repeatedly over the last few years.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.