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Monday, May 1, 2017
Whittier Law School Shuts its Doors
Last week, the Southern California-based Whittier Law School became the first fully ABA accredited institution in the U.S. to announce its closure. While the downturn in law school enrollment is not new news, the proclamation came as a complete shock to the school's students-one week before final exams.
According to the Los Angeles Times, national law school enrollment is down a full 50% since 2005. Generally speaking, this downturn has had a disproportionate affect on all but the highest-tier law schools, who have accepted students with lower grades and test scores, and who tend to perform less competitively on bar exams. The fizzling job market also means that fewer students are getting the jobs they need to pay down their enormously burdensome debts.
Whittier Law School earned its accreditation in the mid-1970s, and in recent years, gained attention for being one of the most racially diverse law school campuses in the country. The majority of students are non-white and female. Many are full-time working mothers, immigrants, or from low-income families. Whittier had been praised for offering access to the legal profession to students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to practice law. Many of these students are more likely to go on to provide services in underserved communities.
As one current student put it, the shuttering "depreciates" the value of her degree. Existing students will be allowed to finish out their time at Whittier, but many are resentful of paying back six-figure debts to a school no longer in existence.
In January 2017, the board of trustees sold the campus for $13 million, promising to reinvest the proceeds into the campus. This is just one of many reasons that students are threatening to litigate over the decision to close; faculty has already filed a request to enjoin the trustees from closing the school. Law blogs across the country are weighing in on the politics and implications of the board's decision, and the potential domino effect on other struggling U.S. law schools.
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