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The American Bar Association is accrediting another law school, even as the organization is suspending others in an era of declining law school enrollments.
The ABA gave provisional approval to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law, reviving hopes that the lower-cost law school will break a disturbing mold in legal education. Some law schools are in jeopardy of losing their accreditation, largely due to low admission standards and poor bar pass rates.
"Our goal has always been to equip graduates with practice-ready competencies and the practical knowledge to pass the Texas Bar Exam," said Royal Furgeson, UNT's founding law school dean. "We now have a clear path to demonstrate that the innovative curriculum and the resources we've established will support exactly that kind of success."
The law school was founded in 2013, offering legal education in the Dallas-Forth Worth area for about half-to-one-third the price of other local law schools. UNT-Dallas charged $16,000 in tuition per year; Texas A&M in Forth Worth charged $28,000, and Southern Methodist in Dallas cost more than $50,000.
Located in a diverse community, more than half of the first law students at the school were minorities. The law school's goal was to make legal education and legal services attainable for everyone.
UNT won its provisional accreditation after the ABA denied the school's previous application in 2016. The ABA said it was concerned about the school's admission policies and finances at the time.
"It appears that the Law School is admitting applicants that do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar," the report said.
The ABA has always scrutinized law schools before granting accreditation, but it has focused on lower admissions and bar pass rates recently. As enrollments declined over the past seven years, some schools responded by admitting students who left law school with little more than a diploma and crushing student debt.
In the midst of the crisis, UNT launched its law school. Joe Patrice, writing for Above the Law, said it was a good thing.
"While America faces the troubling lawyer supply conundrum of too many lawyers for declining top-flight jobs and simultaneously not enough lawyers for public interest and under-served market roles, UNT is filling the niche of providing a low-cost legal education for people who won't then run away from lower-paying work," he said.
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