The University of Georgia School of Law has created a new program to attract and support diverse students, particularly those from rural areas, who might think the law school is beyond their reach.
Called the Benham Scholars Program, it is named after Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, who in 1970 was the law school’s second African-American graduate.
UGA Law anticipates recruiting an inaugural class of six Benham Scholars for the fall 2018 class, said the law school’s dean, Bo Rutledge.
“Throughout our state and nation, there are young people who work hard and dream about success but have difficulty overcoming certain obstacles, financial or otherwise,” Benham said in a statement. “If this program can help even a fraction of them attend law school and have the chance for a successful legal career, we will have made an impact.
Benham added that he looks forward to “watching this new program change young lives.”
UGA Law’s executive director for admissions, Greg Roseboro, said he visits colleges and universities statewide with very bright, qualified students who lack the information and resources to prepare for the LSAT or apply to law school—and who think UGA Law is beyond their reach.
“This will allow us to reach out to underrepresented institutions to talk to their advisers about what we have available to support them,” Roseboro said, mentioning Fort Valley State University, a historically black university outside of Macon, and Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.
He said advisers at these schools “have been very candid with me that part of their challenge is getting students prepared early on [to apply to law school] and understand that it is a realistic option for them.”
The Benham Scholars Program is open to Georgia residents and those with significant ties to the state.
It is envisioned as a “holistic support structure,” Rutledge said, that helps Benham Scholars with their academic and professional development during law school and beyond. It provides funding to overcome some financial obstacles, like buying books, and also establishes what Rutledge called a “network of opportunity.”
For instance, UGA Law has an Early Start course for matriculating students the week before orientation to help them learn how to navigate law school—but some students who could benefit can’t afford the housing cost and other expenses.
The new program will defray those costs for Benham Scholars. It will also provide money for books during law school and bar exam prep courses in students’ third year, Roseboro said.
More broadly, the Benham Scholars Program is about creating a community to support the participants on their paths to become successful lawyers, with opportunities to tap into a network of mentors and advisers for academic and career-development, Rutledge said.
Being identified as a Benham Scholar “will have a resonance in the professional community,” he added, that can help the program’s participants in their job search upon graduation.
“We know that for some academically qualified students, barriers still exist to entering law school,” Rutledge said. “Some of these are financial, and others are tied to access to information and support. Through the Benham Scholars Program, we hope to give these young men and women the opportunity to thrive both in law school and in their careers.”
Of UGA Law’s 507 law students, 21 percent are minorities. In-state tuition was just under $20,000 for this year’s entering class, and the law school estimated living expenses for on-campus residents at $15,200.
Initial funding for the program comes from a universitywide diversity initiative that UGA president Jere Morehead announced last semester. Through the New Approaches in Diversity and Inclusion initiative, the university just announced $300,000 in grants for 21 proposals—including $22,200 to the law school for the Benham Scholars Program. The law school is matching the grant, for a total of $44,400 in seed funding.
Additional contributions to expand the program are welcome, Rutledge said.
“One of the things we’re seeing is real excitement among our alumni and donors to support students from particular walks of life,” he said, such as being the first in their family to go to college or law school.