At a time when law schools across the United States are seeing increased enrollment, Florida’s 11 accredited law schools are seeing mixed results.
Nationally, J.D. enrollment is up 3 percent — the first measurable increase in the size of the first-year class since 2010. But among the 11 Florida law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, a few saw modest gains in enrollment, while others saw drops. On average, first-year class sized dropped 3.34 percent in Florida.
Accredited law schools are required to report metrics each year.
The following universities saw a drop in first-year classes: Ave Maria (-1.3 percent), Florida A&M (-14.3 percent), Florida Coastal (-43.4 percent), University of Florida (-17.6 percent), St. Thomas (-0.5 percent) and Nova Southeastern University (-12.4 percent).
In contrast, a few Florida schools saw larger classes in 2018: Stetson University (6.4 percent), University of Miami (5.3 percent), Florida State (19 percent), Florida International University (8.1 percent) and Barry University (5 percent).
The smaller class size is in most cases related to a drop in the number of applicants. Florida schools saw a 1.7 percent drop in applications from 2017 to 2018. However, some programs — most notably Nova, St. Thomas and FIU — saw sizable increases in applications, with Nova reporting a 22 percent increase.
Despite the overall smaller class size and fewer applicants, acceptance rates dropped 1 percent across the board.
It’s hard to draw anything conclusive from this data. Florida Coastal’s precipitous drop-off, in the midst of an accreditation lawsuit with the ABA, heavily skews the overall data. Some schools with large increases in applicants such as Nova, tightened their acceptance rate, leading to a smaller class size despite higher interest.
Jerome Organ, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, said the data suggests that “Florida, Florida Coastal and Nova Southeastern all took a smaller entering class to assure stronger class credentials.” All three schools saw increased median LSAT scores.
Law schools are now just coming off an eight-year slump fraught with low enrollment, law schools closing and countless law school faculty cuts. Experts point to an improved entry-level market and political upheaval as drivers of the increased national interest in legal professions.