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Largest Enrollment Declines at Law Schools Hit Cooley and University of La Verne

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A new study released by The National Jurist shows that the drop in law school applications over the past three years has affected law schools profoundly.

From 2010-2011 to 2013-2014, enrollment at law schools has dropped by an average of 99 students. There have only been 16 law schools in the study that saw an increase in its student body.

The University of La Verne (66.2 percent drop in enrollment) and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School (40.6 percent drop in enrollment) were two of 18 schools to see their enrollment drop by 30 percent or more.

Cooley has five campuses in Florida and Michigan. Their enrollment dropped to 2,334 students in 2013-2014 from 3,931 students in 2010-2011.

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“Cooley, like most, if not all law schools has experienced a downturn in applications and enrollment,” said Paul Zelenski, Associate Dean of Enrollment and Student Services at Cooley Law School. “Almost four years ago Cooley anticipated this downturn, so the current situation was not a surprise.”

Contributing to the drop in enrollment are negative attitude towards those in the legal industry and the drop in the economy, according to Zelenski.

“An issue that frequently comes up by the vocal minority is student debt, which I can completely appreciate,” Zelenski said. “What has not been a part of the conversation is that more students are coming to law school with more debt from their previous education than ever before.”

The drop in enrollment at the University of La Verne came when the school lost its American Bar Association accreditation in 2011. It was able to regain provisional approval pretty quickly, but the school’s enrollment numbers have not climbed yet.

Florida Coastal School of Law dropped to 1,279 students from 1,742 while Seton Hall University dropped to 688 students from 1,053.

In July, Seton Hall announced that it could get rid of all its junior faculty positions, all seven of them, following the 2013-2014 school year. The faculty at the school also approved a 10 percent drop in salary.

“Because of the dramatic drop in interest in legal education, all schools must make decisions about the size and quality of enrollment,” the school said in a statement.

Zelenski pointed out that Cooley has not made any decisions on reducing its faculty, changing curriculum, or asking faculty to approve a decline in salary. He did say that the school has created new programs to entice new students.

“Cooley has been active on the recruitment scene by adding new programs and events to attract students when the market recovers,” he said. “We are emphasizing the value and versatility of the degree and encourag[ing] people to think beyond the here and now; instead to have enough foresight to think three years ahead and beyond.”

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