La Verne College of Law
La Verne College of Law (Nicole Beale)

The University of La Verne College of Law is getting out of the tuition discounting game and rolling out what appears to be the first true flat-rate tuition system at an American Bar Association-accredited law school.

Starting next fall, all Law Verne law students will pay $25,000 to attend full time and $19,600 to attend part-time—without the scholarships and discounts that many law schools have leaned on as they competed for a smaller pool of prospective students.

“The time has come to tell the truth about the cost of legal education,” La Verne law dean Gilbert Holmes said.

According to law school administrators, the change will lower the amount many students pay for their legal education. The new tuition will be $14,900 less than the existing $39,900 list price.

Second, the new system would eliminate the common practice of granting generous scholarships to applicants with high Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade-point averages at the expense of lower-scoring students who might have a greater need for financial aid.

Finally, the flat-rate pricing is intended to make the Ontario, Calif., law school more appealing to prospective students. Many law schools have been hit by declining enrollments, but that reality has been especially dire at La Verne, which welcomed just 50 new students this fall, compared to 166 in 2010—a nearly 70 percent decline.

In addition, La Verne is contending with questions about its quality. The ABA in 2011 revoked the school’s provisional accreditation amid concern over low bar passage rates. The provisional accreditation was reinstated less than a year later, after the bar pass rate improved.

“We are, undoubtedly, seeking to increase enrollment,” Holmes said. “But it’s not solely about driving numbers. It’s about enrolling more and more students from diverse backgrounds who embrace the values of social justice and equal opportunity, and who will not only be good law students but also upstanding guardians of society.”

Holmes said administrators hope to enroll 90 new students next fall—the school needs that many for the new tuition model to work, he said. The existing average discount already brings tuition below $25,000, even though the new system will make tuition costs more even for students, according to Holmes.

All new entering students will pay the $25,000 for each of the next three years. Already enrolled students will also pay $25,000—unless their existing scholarships would bring their bills below that mark, in which case they will continue to pay the lower rate.

Holmes, who has been dean at La Verne for less than a year, got the idea for flat-rate tuition from Washington University in St. Louis law professor Brian Tamanaha’s 2012 book, “Failing Law Schools.” The book accuses law schools of perpetuating a system whereby lower-performing applicants—often from lower socioeconomic groups—essentially subsidize tuition for classmates with higher LSAT scores and undergraduate grades. Merit-based financial aid has eclipsed need-based aid because U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings reward schools for bringing in students with higher academic credentials, Tamanaha argues.

But La Verne doesn’t need to play the U.S. News rankings game, Holmes said. It is in the unranked third tier of law schools and it’s not likely to move up.

“That’s OK,” Holmes said. “It’s more important that we do the things we say are important and that we do those things very well.”

For instance, the law school has been updating its curriculum to emphasize practice skills and beefed up its bar preparation resources.

Holmes doesn’t know of any other law schools with flat-rate pricing, although he came across several small, liberal arts colleges that offer flat rates. “Those schools aren’t heavily dependent on reputational matters for enrollment, and I thought our law school fit that mold,” he said.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.