School of Law on Falling Admission Rates

Between 2013 and 2014, the American Bar Association noted a drop of nearly 9,000 students enrolled in law school. While these figures are dated, concerns are still present in college environments about attending law school and landing a job afterwards.

“The bubble burst. There was a bubble of going to law school and I think kids were saying ‘I don’t know what to do. I can’t find a job in the recession. I’ll go to law school,’” said full-time Bloch school instructor and attorney David Lloyd. He added that he was one of those students during this time.

This “bubble” is in line with what UMKC Law Associate Dean for Students and Chair of the Admissions Committee Allen Rostron said, comparing the rising and falling amount of applicants to a roller coaster.

“[Applications] reached a peak of over 100,000 applicants nationwide per year. The number of applicants has declined sharply in recent years, so that it is now barely half of what it was at its peak,” said Rostron. “UMKC has experienced this decline in applicants, just like every law school.”

Lloyd believes that now all those students on the fence about applying to law school have taken themselves out of the running. “Tuition [nationally] has been rising. Those costs coupled with how much it costs to live — I think people are deciding to just go into something else.”

Senior Pre-Law Student Andrea Herron agrees costs are a deterrent.

“The potential inability to find a job, coupled with thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans,” said Herron. “Is what is causing many students to decide against a legal education.”

She was quick to add that figures are lower for students who pursue their education at UMKC.

Students at UMKC are fortunate to face lower costs than the national average. For the 2015 to 2016 academic year, the national average of public in-state law school tuition was $25,890. This figure is over $7,000 more a year than UMKC’s $18,646.84 of tuition and fees for the 2016-2017 school year.

Why then, have the incoming law school classes become increasingly smaller even at UMKC?

According to Rostron, UMKC Law administration had to weigh the consequences of either decreasing their standards in students, or cutting back on enrollment in relation to the decrease in applicants. After remaining strong for years following the national decline, UMKC has decided to gently cut back on the admissions they offer. This allows them to maintain their standard of an applicant even though classes are not as big. A testament to this decision is apparent in UMKC being ranked in the top 10 for “Law schools that students really want to go to” according to Above the Law last year.

Director of Admissions for UMKC’s School of Law, Lydia Dagenais, listed an increase in the “summer melt” effect and a national increase in scholarships as factors that her team has come across in addition to a decrease in admission offers.

The “summer melt” effect refers to students who put in a seat deposit early in the summer but do not end up attending in the fall. Dagenais says this is usually due to them either deciding they no longer want to attend law school or getting  into a school at which they were originally waitlisted.

“Although UMKC Law offers as generous of scholarships as we are able, we are also very mindful of keeping out tuition as low as we can for everyone,” said Dagenais. “Some of our closest competitors have been offering students huge scholarships in recent years, and we have found that we are losing out more often to other places that are able to offer students more money than we can.”

In fact, both the summer melt and the influx in national scholarships reflect how other law schools may be opting to decrease standards in order to maintain full class sizes.

“I think the recession has hit the older lawyers and they’re not retiring…and I think supply side is hurt,” said Lloyd.

“Our goal is always to have the right level of enrollment and sometimes that’s going to mean growing and sometimes it’s going to mean a decrease,” said Rostron. “We’re always going to be careful not to admit more than would be justified by the quality of the applicant pool or the strength of the job market for graduating law students.”

For prospective lawyers, take heart and know where to find help and experience. As someone who is very dedicated in pursuing a legal education, Herron has commented on the resources that continue to help her in her path. A UMKC Trustee, Herron received a mentor that currently practices in the Kansas City Area.

“His willingness to help in any way and give advice has allowed me to gain a better look into the legal field in Kansas City and beyond,” said Herron. “Other than that, every organization that I have joined and served as a leader in on campus have helped me become a [better-rounded] student, constantly pushing me to grow and learn personally, academically and professionally.”

UMKC also offers pre-law advising for students to help keep them on track for applying.

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