Concordia University School of Law is vying to attain national certification by the end of the 2014-15 academic year so that its first class of students, slated to graduate in the spring, can take the bar exam afterward.
One of just two Idaho law schools, Concordia opened in the fall of 2012. Should it miss its goal for provisional approval from the American Bar Association’s government-designated accrediting agency for law schools, the licensing process for students nearing graduation becomes more complex and potentially more expensive.
They would have to seek individual waivers to take the Idaho bar exam, transfer to an accredited school or postpone graduation until Concordia wins the ABA’s approval. Faced with those prospects, 25 students have withdrawn, leaving the law school with a student body of 100, said Madeline Turnock, a spokeswoman for Portland, Oregon-based Concordia University, which operates the Idaho school.
“Overall we have maintained the confidence of our students that we are continuing as swiftly as possible through the ABA accreditation process,” Turnock said.
Concordia sought provisional accreditation as soon as it was able to do so, she said. ABA rules require new law schools to operate for at least one year before applying, according to the organization’s website. The school disclosed during the summer that the ABA had not yet granted provisional approval, and Turnock said a team of fact-finders is scheduled to visit the campus this month.
To win the designation, schools have to show they’re in substantial compliance with ABA rules and have a reliable plan to achieve full compliance, according to the ABA website.
After that, schools have from three to five years, typically, to obtain full accreditation, which requires showing they’ve fully complied with all ABA standards, the website notes.
“The earliest the ABA would ever grant provisional accreditation is this year, our third year,” Turnock said. “This is the earliest possible time we can get it. We’re actually very much on track.”
Concordia Law’s tuition, $29,043 at full price, is almost twice that of the University of Idaho Law School, which charges $15,774 to state residents and has a student body about three times as large, according to data analyzed by Lawdragon. Including financial aid packages, Concordia Law students typically pay about $15,750 a year in tuition, Turnock said.
“Because we want what’s best for the students and what will ultimately support them individually in their own success, we are doing everything possible to mitigate any unintended consequences of the accreditation timeline,” Turnock said.
With the provisional accreditation timetable still uncertain, Concordia is offering refunds of $5,000 to 3L students, $3,000 to 2Ls and $1,000 to 1Ls, she said. Improved financial aid packages are also available.
“That’s, again, a contingency policy if the timing on the accreditation stretches out longer than the university anticipates,” she said.
“The decision point at which the council decided to continue Concordia’s current application is when we made the first announcement about where we are in the process,” Turnock said. “Obviously, our students are anxiously awaiting. We want to be up front and share as much as we know as soon as we know it.”
Of the 203 ABA-approved law schools that grant juris doctorates, three are operating with provisional accreditation: Belmont University College of Law, University of La Verne College of Law and University of Massachusetts School of Law-Dartmouth.
A fourth, the University of California-Irvine, which opened in the fall of 2009, was granted full accreditation in June.
Graduates posted an average bar passage rate of 90 percent in the most recent year for which statistics were available, outpacing the state average of 71 percent and a national average for ABA-accredited law schools of 82 percent, according to an analysis by Lawdragon.
“Receiving full accreditation from the ABA at the earliest possible time is a wonderful milestone and validation that we are creating an excellent law school in every respect,” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said in an e-mail.
At the time of its founding, the UC-Irvine’s was the first new public law school in California in 40 years. The average score of admitted students on the Law School Admission Test last year was 164, the ninth-highest in the U.S.
Contact James Langford at (646) 722-2624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.