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Atlanta’s National Center for Paralegal Training has announced plans to close its doors next year because of declining enrollment. Current students received letters last week officially announcing the decision, slated to take effect October 2003. The NCPT is one of four American Bar Association-approved paralegal training centers in Georgia, but it’s the only ABA-approved school in the metro area. The other three ABA-certified schools in Georgia are Gainesville College, Athens Technical College and South University in Savannah. Craig A. Hardesty, NCPT’s dean of students, says the school’s owner, Education Management Corp. (EDMC), determined that enrollment is too low to support operations. Enrollment at NCPT Inc. has declined from 350 in 1999 to 185 currently. The center was established in 1974 and has graduated more than 10,000. A spokesman for EDMC says the decision was made in early January after several months of discussions. It could not be determined whether the parent company contemplated selling NCPT. Pittsburgh-based EDMC is a publicly traded company that owns and operates 25 professional schools and branches across the United States. Of those, 23 are art institutes and one is a culinary academy. Education Management bought NCPT in the early 1990s. Steven J. Richards, a former student and career services coordinator at the school, says NCPT didn’t fit into Education Management’s business model. “They were trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” says Richards, who left the center last year to become a paralegal at a Dunwoody, Ga., firm. The fashion and art schools Education Management runs are less exclusive than NCPT, he says, and the other schools were more enrollment-focused. The school “had a great curriculum and a great faculty but they could never come up with the numbers Pittsburgh [Education Management headquarters] was looking for,” Richards says. Students were informed of the closing two weeks ago during classes, says student Dionne P. Hines. Hines says students were told that class sizes had dropped from about 50 to only 10 to 15 now. While she’s disappointed about the closing, Hines says she’s grateful that the school will stay open for its current students. She says she also considers herself “one of the lucky ones,” because, with the closing of the only ABA-approved school in the metro area, she expects to be a more-prized job candidate. Hines, who specializes in civil litigation, expects to graduate in May. Carin M. Gordon, NCPT’s executive director, says tuition costs about $7,260, or 30 credit hours at $242 per hour. The center also offers certificate programs for legal administrative assistants and legal health care specialists. Other students are enrolled in a two-year, 97-credit-hour program — the associate of arts, legal studies. At ABA-approved Athens Technical College, the 115-hour associate’s degree program costs between $3,249 and $7,360, depending on the courses selected. At Gainesville College, also approved by the ABA, an in-state resident will pay about $5,700 for a 64-hour associate’s degree program. ABA-approved South University in Savannah has a 104-credit associate’s degree program. Tuition information was unavailable. Clayton College and State University in Morrow and Kennesaw State University offer non-ABA-approved courses. The cost at Clayton is about $3,500 for a 33-hour certificate program, while Kennesaw’s 216-hour certificate program runs about $1,900. Jennifer K. Kirkland, president of the Georgia Association of Paralegals and a 1999 graduate of the center, says NCPT’s closing will have a definite impact on Atlanta’s paralegal market. Being the only ABA-approved school in the Atlanta area means it’s the most credible, Kirkland says. Top firms prefer paralegals to have a bachelor’s degree and a certificate from an ABA-approved school. But mid-size and small firms don’t have such high standards, she says. Kirkland says she’s seen paralegal layoffs in Atlanta’s corporate legal departments since Sept. 11. But she doesn’t think there’s been much of an impact on paralegals at law firms, she says. Brian J. Bremer of Bellon & Associates says he’s seen a slowdown in paralegal recruiting but notes that the paralegal market is cyclical and has started to pick up in recent months.

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