George Washington University Law School is the latest to intentionally reduce enrollment in the face of declining law school applications.
Law Dean Paul Schiff Berman said the school does not plan to cut any specific percentage of J.D. candidates from the incoming class this fall, but hopes to move enrollment below 450 and continue to reduce the number of new students in subsequent years. In fall 2011, the school enrolled 474 J.D. students.
Last month, administrators at the University of California Hastings College of the Law announced plans to cut enrollment by 20 percent over three years. Albany Law School, Creighton University School of Law and Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center reduced their incoming classes during 2011.
Berman said that he had planned to reduce the number of students since assuming the school’s top administrative position in May 2011. The school experienced a 15 percent decline in applications during this admission cycle — mirroring a national drop in applicants as reported by the Law School Admissions Council — which provided additional motivation to lower enrollment, Berman said.
Lowering admission standards to maintain enrollment numbers might have depressed the ranking by U.S. News & World Report, which considers new students’ Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade-point averages. Berman said such concerns were not a significant factor — in part because it’s not clear that cutting enrollment would boost a school’s ranking, given that it means a correlating decline in revenue. More important, he said, was that the school doesn’t want to admit students who will struggle academically.
“We are focused on maintaining the quality and standards of our class,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone we enroll we think will succeed in law school and be leaders in the profession.”
George Washington will forego some tuition revenue, but administrators hope to fill that gap though increased fundraising and the introduction of new programs for nonlawyers, Berman said. For example, the law school will team with the business school to offer a joint degree in the law and business of government contracts next fall. It hopes to launch a similar program for non-lawyers in intellectual property.
A reduced class will offer additional benefits including smaller class sizes, a lower student-to-faculty ratio and a more intimate law school experience, Berman said.
Berman predicted that additional law schools would reduce the size of their incoming classes, even if they do it quietly.
“I think almost any school that can afford to do it will cut down the class size,” he said.
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