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Dean McConnaughay: Addressing the Changing Legal Market

For the past few years, the market for legal services in the U.S. has been in decline. More and more law students nationally are graduating each year with high debt and no jobs. Thousands fewer students are applying to law school as a result; the decline is steepest among students with the highest academic credentials. Competition among the best law schools is fierce. 

The Dickinson School of Law is responding responsibly to these circumstances by reducing the size of our J.D. student population – from 650 to fewer than 500 – so that student academic credentials remain exceptional and meaningful professional opportunities for our graduates remain abundant.
This reduction in J.D. students (which will be fully realized with the 2013-14 academic year) results in a loss of tuition revenue for the Law School in excess of $6 million. This loss compounds an existing annual operating deficit of $5 million resulting from our two-campus/single student body operation, which the University currently subsidizes voluntarily. At the time of the two-campus agreement, the University expected the Law School’s student population to eventually include a total of 750 J.D. students, which would retire the subsidy. Instead, the Law School’s J.D. population is declining.
The Law School is attempting to address this combined deficit and place the Law School, in both of its locations, on a path to sustained economic self-sufficiency by dramatically cutting costs and increasing non-J.D. tuition revenues, while simultaneously preserving the excellence of our academic program and not raising J.D. tuition appreciably. 

Cutting Costs

A major cost-cutting target is to discontinue the current complete duplication at both of our campuses of the first-year of the Law School’s J.D. program, and instead consolidate the first-year program in University Park. Law School admissions data for several decades indicate clearly that the Law School would be unable in Carlisle alone to recruit a J.D. class of the credentials and size it deserves and needs; the opposite is true in University Park. Additionally, one of the Law School’s principal goals is to increase the percentage of talented Pennsylvania students in our J.D. population, thus restoring the grand tradition of The Dickinson School of Law of producing so many Pennsylvania leaders.  It was the precipitous and steep decline of Pennsylvania applicants that caused The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle to struggle so severely in the 1990’s. Restoring Pennsylvania applicants is far more likely on the flagship campus of Penn State, where thousands of talented Pennsylvania undergraduates attend college each year (this strategy replicates that of most other major public research university law schools).
The consolidation of the Law School’s first-year program in University Park will have the effect of appreciably reducing the total J.D. student population in Carlisle. Nonetheless, the Law School believes the upper-level J.D. program in Carlisle will remain strong because of uniquely attractive upper-level opportunities available only in Carlisle (e.g., the Law School’s Children’s Advocacy Clinic and related curriculum; a new medical/legal partnership clinical program with Penn State Hershey; the Law School’s Harrisburg externship program and Harrisburg Semester program; an increasingly rich curriculum focusing on state and local government; a growing curriculum focusing on national security and energy law; etc.), supplemented by access to other key elements of the Law School’s upper-level curriculum, and made especially attractive by a Law School housing rental program making campus transfers less costly than staying the full year at one campus or the other. 

Raising non-J.D. Tuition Revenue 

On the revenue side, the Law School is instituting several new legal education programs targeting foreign judges, prosecutors, lawyers and law students. Several law school deans from abroad have expressed interest in semester and year-long visits to our Law School by LL.B students. Several judicial academies responsible for the professional advancement of judges and prosecutors have expressed interest in both degree and shorter-term non-degree programs at our Law School. Commercial courts in several civil law nations are interested in whether we might offer training in common law principles and analysis.
The demand for high quality legal education among these groups is strong. Four or five years ago, our Law School was lucky to have five or six LL.M students in any given year. Today we have 64. The increase is reflective of this demand.
This year we have fifteen Army War College students attending energy and national security law courses in Carlisle; that number is likely only to grow. 

Penn State University Dickinson School of Law is a Single, Unified Law School 

The Law School’s Carlisle and University Park campuses alike will be sharing the responsibilities and opportunities that accompany these changes. Every decision the Law School’s faculty and administration makes is calculated to best serve our students, our alumni, and the reputation of our Law School.  Penn State University Dickinson School of Law is a single, unified law school with two campuses; we are not two separate but identical law schools in two different places. Law schools today do not offer only a J.D. program, as some may have offered in the past. The cutbacks we are undertaking and new programs we are instituting are typical of the initiatives and array of programs found at other top law schools. No other single, unified law school would choose instead only to operate two mirror images of its J.D. program.
Some would have the Law School simply admit more J.D. students, collect their tuition, and escape the difficult economic challenges created by the nationwide decline in law applicants and our choice to reduce the size of our J.D. student population in response. But this strategy would mean the academic credentials of our students would fall, our ability to place our graduates in meaningful legal jobs would diminish, more of our students would graduate with high non-dischargeable debt and no jobs, and the reputation and stature of The Dickinson School of Law would suffer. This would disserve our students, our alumni, Penn State University, and the community of Carlisle.  
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