Facing low enrollment, Law School gets a $2.2 million boost

University President Eric Kaler’s budget for next year allocates money to combat a loss of tuition revenue.

Tyler Gieseke

As its enrollment continues to drop, the University of Minnesota’s Law School is set to receive more money to fight financial woes.

President Eric Kaler’s proposed budget for next year includes a $2.2 million allocation to help the Law School cover a loss in tuition revenue, an issue plaguing law schools nationwide.

The University’s Law School has had relatively consistent enrollment over the past few years, but Dean David Wippman said the applications to the school and the number of first-year students are sharply declining.

In fall 2014, he said, about 180 students will enroll, compared to about 220 first-year students in 2013.

“That’s a pretty significant drop,” Wippman said.

Nationally, the number of applicants to American Bar Association-approved schools has dropped by more than 10 percent in each of the past three years, while first-year enrollment has dropped by more than 7 percent each year.

A lower number of new students creates financial problems for the school, Wippman said.

If the Law School received no aid from the University and didn’t make changes to its operations, he said, it would face a deficit of about $3 million next year.

To cover the gap, the administration is taking steps like lowering raises for employees, not renewing contracts with adjunct faculty members and moving publications to the web, Wippman said.

The school has also admitted more transfer students than normal, Wippman said, and will launch a new one-year master’s program in patent law to attract new students.

Like the University, law schools nationally are finding creative ways to stave off deficits.

Some schools are reassessing their budgets and their staff numbers, said Wendy Margolis, director of communications for the Law School Admission Council, which administers the Law School Admissions Test.

Wippman said Law School leaders are working to alleviate the need for additional University financial support, but he hopes to get continued monetary help if it’s needed.

Last year, the University gave the Law School $950,000 for scholarships, and tuition rose by 5 percent or more for full-time resident students for the 2013-14 school year.

That increase in cost can deter some from pursuing a career in law.

“It’s a lot of money to go to law school,” said third-year law student John Perpich.

Combined with high tuition, a “very tight” job market in the past few years has contributed to the problem, Wippman said.

Toni Haraldsen, a spring 2014 Law School graduate, said the job market isn’t as bad as it used to be, but students are now more cautious before entering the field.

If students aren’t certain they’ll get a job after graduating, she said, they’ll often put off law school or pursue a master’s degree in another field.

Margolis said that poor job markets reported in the media can also keep potential students from applying to law schools.

Still, some law professionals aren’t convinced the problem is as severe as generally perceived.

“There have been downturns before,” Margolis said, adding that although this slump has lasted longer than others, it appears to be turning around.

Law firms are hiring students later than they used to, but they’re still hiring, said Gilbert Holmes, dean of the University of La Verne College of Law in California.

In the past, firms would hire graduates at the beginning of their third year, he said, but now they sometimes wait until months later when students pass bar exams.

This newer practice could result in lower employment statistics, Holmes said, depending on when data is gathered.

“I think the talk is greater than the reality,” he said.