Law-Books

The embattled Charlotte School of Law will remain open — for now.

Administrators informed students in an email Friday evening that the school will hold classes this spring semester despite the U.S. Department of Education’s decision in December to withhold access to federal student loans.

The Education Department in an announcement on Dec. 19 cited accreditation shortfalls and deceptive statements about bar passage rates at the North Carolina law school as the reasons for discontinuing access to federal loan money. Since then, Charlotte’s more than 700 students have been in limbo, with little idea whether they could attend classes this semester or how they will fund the remainder of their legal education.

The question of loan financing for students remains unanswered. The brief email Friday did not include any information about alternative loan sources or tuition waivers, though administrators said more information was on the way. A spokeswoman for the school did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning.

“We are very pleased to announce that after extensive discussions with our regulators, we will be starting classes as scheduled,” wrote Dean Jay Conison and president Chidi Ogene in their Friday email to students. “Please watch for further important information on Monday.”

The spring semester for current students will start on Jan. 17, according to their email. But the school has elected not to enroll any new students for the spring semester.

Charlotte students have complained publicly that the law school has kept them in the dark about its plans in light of losing access to federal loans, which are the lifeblood of higher education tuition funding. Tuition at the school is $44,284 annually, which is the second-highest of North Carolina’s seven law school, behind only Duke Law School.

Two separate sets of students have filed class action lawsuits against the school, alleging fraud and deception over the school’s failure to disclose its accreditation problems. Some students have complained that administrators are hindering their ability to transfer to other law schools.

The Education Department’s decision came after the American Bar Association sanctioned Charlotte in November for noncompliance with admissions standards meant to ensure schools only enroll students capable of graduating and passing the bar.

“The message sent on Friday is ambiguous and sends mixed messages given the previous announcements that the school made about working on a teach-out and or facilitating a transfer to another one of its schools,” said Charlotte student Robert Barchiesi on Monday. He is among the plaintiffs suing the school.

Even if students are able to graduate from the school, their degrees are tainted in the eyes of the legal profession because of Charlotte’s problems with the ABA and the Education Department, he added.

Charlotte administrators have said in messages and a meeting with students last week that they are trying to secure alternative loan funding for students. They said they were also exploring the feasibility of students transferring to Florida Coastal School of Law, which is 400 miles away in Jacksonville.

Florida Coastal is one of the three for-profit law schools owned by Infilaw Corp., which also owns Charlotte and Arizona Summit Law School. In and email to Florida Coastal students Jan. 5, Dean Scott Devito said that the Jacksonville school would admit only students who meet its admission criteria, and that it was unlikely to be overwhelmed with Charlotte transfers.

“At present, there exists a misconception that Coastal Law is going to effectively allow any Charlotte Law student to transfer to Coastal,” he wrote. “Let me be clear. That is not true.”

Charlotte leaders were also working to reverse the Education Department’s decision, though a department spokesperson did not respond to a request for information about the current status of the school’s federal loan eligibility.