Law school enrollment nationwide jumped 3 percent this year, but enrollment at Texas’ 10 law schools increased by a little less than 1 percent.
A total of 2,220 first-year students were enrolled in Texas law schools this fall, compared with 2,199 in 2017, according to statistics made public on Friday by the American Bar Association. That is a 0.95 percent year-over-year increase.
The nationwide increase in 2018 is the first significant increase since 2010. Nationally, enrollment in U.S. law schools totaled 38,390 new students this fall, up 1,070 from 2017.
Enrollment at five of the Texas schools increased, while it fell at the other five.
Texas A&M University School of Law posted the greatest enrollment increase at 31.88 percent, with the University of North Texas at Dallas School of Law close behind with a 30.77 percent increase.
The biggest declines were at San Antonio-based St. Mary’s University School of Law, where enrollment fell by 18.21 percent, and at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston, where enrollment dropped by 15.23 percent.
Stephen Sheppard, dean of the law school at St. Mary’s, said the school’s enrollment dropped because it was unusually high the year before. He said the first-year class of 238 this fall is “standard size.”
“Last year we had an unusually large class. We had made offers, based on our historical ‘melt’ rate, but many fewer people declined our offers,” Sheppard said.
Because of growth in law programs the school offers to professionals who will not earn a J.D., Sheppard said the school is looking into gradually reducing the size of the first-year class to perhaps as small as just under 200 students. He said the goal is to balance the school’s obligation to serve the law degree needs of people in South Texas, but also to serve professionals in the area, including the military.
“We are in a special place and we have a special mission here,” Sheppard said.
Gary Bledsoe, acting dean of Thurgood Marshall, wrote in an email that the TSU law school reduced the size of its fall class for “academic reasons” and so it would have more ability to focus on students. The Houston school faces the challenge of overcoming an unusually low pass rate for its students on the July 2018 Texas Bar Examination. Only 44.52 percent of the students who took the exam for the first time passed and the law school has launched an investigation to figure out why the pass rate was so low.