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Minnesota Needs More Lawyers!
by Silence Dogood

An article in the SC Times on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 announced “SCSU, William Mitchell partner on law program.” In this program, students will attend SCSU for three years and then “skip their fourth year” and enroll in William Mitchell law school. After the first two semesters at William Mitchell, “St. Cloud State University will accept credits from the first two semesters of law school, assign them as electives, then grant a diploma.”

According to the article, Kathy Uradnik, a professor and prelaw adviser at SCSU is quoted as saying “The whole point is to save undergrads money.” Essentially, through this program, SCSU is giving away approximately $8,700 in tuition revenue. As a result, unless this program attracts significantly more pre-law students than currently attend SCSU, there will be a net loss of revenue to the university.

St. Cloud State University is in trouble. A 21.8% decline in enrollment since FY10 and a poor decision to enter into a long-term lease with the Wedum Foundation for an off-campus apartment complex, which has lost the university a total of $7,700,000 in the first five years of operation, have left the university with a Composite Financial Index (CFI) for FY14 of 0.07. Given the projected $9,542,000 deficit for FY15 and the commitment of over $8,000,0000 from the reserves to offset the deficit and fund early separation incentives, the CFI will likely go negative for FY15.

This has led to a hastily conceived process to evaluate programs and make recommendations for cuts, which will likely include retrenchment of faculty and staff (The administration announced at Meet and Confer on April 2 that they were considering retrenchment as a solution to the financial debacle that SCSU now finds itself). Budget documents released by the administration call for the reduction of 76 FTE of faculty and 50 FTE of staff. The timeline for this process could only be described as extremely short! Ultimately, $9,000,000 has to be cut from the FY16 budget. Unfortunately, even cutting $9,000,000 from the FY16 budget leaves SCSU with a projected deficit for FY16 of $679,000 and a financial reserve balance of $0! Unfortunately, that is not a typo! The minimum $10,500,000 reserve required by MnSCU is now gone.

So here comes what President Potter calls an “innovative” program that certainly looks like a financial loser. In fact, Professor Uradnik is quoted as saying that although SCSU will be losing a year of tuition from three-plus-three students: “It isn’t always about the money.” Given SCSU’s current financial situation, I beg to disagree. It’s all about the money! Every program at SCSU has been directed to plan for cutting between 5-10% from their budgets for FY16. However, here is a new program that looks like something that is going to result in a financial loss for the university.

In order to be revenue neutral, at a minimum, enrollment in this new pre-law option will have to result in a net increase in pre-law students. For every 3 pre-law students that participate in this 3+3 program, a net increase of 1 FYE student will needed to offset the 25% decrease in tuition revenue. Additionally, if the current pre-law students switch to this new program, there will be an even greater need to recruit more pre-law students to offset lost revenue.

With marketing and advertising, attracting new pre-law students may on its face seem possible. However, Professor Uradnik is quoted as saying that: “The model is becoming fairly common across the U.S.” As a result, the advantage of uniqueness is lost so it looks simply like a program that is going to lose money and lose even more money if this program expands.

According to Professor Uradnik: “The whole point (of this program) is to save undergrads money.” But will this program ultimately save students money? The answer is not quite so simple as saying yes because of the cost savings of one less year of undergraduate tuition. Approximately 10% of students drop out of law school during their first year in law school. For these drop outs, in addition to owing $41,000 in tuition for that first year in law school, students will now have to go back to college to complete their undergraduate degree—potentially eliminating the once saved year of undergraduate tuition. However, when the student now graduates, they are faced with that $41,000 loan for law school tuition. So not all students will actually be saving money!

This program will also significantly limit the ability for students to transfer. A non-trivial number of students transfer law schools during their first year in law school. Unless the new law school has a similar 3+3 program with SCSU, if a student transfers after one semester, they may not ultimately earn a degree from SCSU. As a result, limiting the ability of a student to transfer during the first year will significantly limit the options of these students.

Ultimately, the final question that needs to be answered is really whether we need more lawyers. I have nothing against lawyers. However, recently most law schools have been reducing the numbers of students admitted because graduates are not finding employment, the need for a law degree has declined, and the salaries lawyers command has shrunk considerably. Two years ago, Hamline cut the number of its incoming law school class by half! Additionally, just recently, Hamline and William Mitchell announced that they are combining programs, which reduces the number of law schools in Minnesota from four to three.

A quick review of headlines in the past month:

An article: Drop in Applications Spurs Changes at Law Schools in U.S. News online on March 11, 2015 cites “enrollment in 2013 was down 24 percent from what it was in 2010.”

A second article from U.S. News online on March 24, 2015 cites: “Law school applications are on the decline. A mere 55,700 students applied to law schools approved by the American Bar Association in 2014, according to data from the Law School Admission Council. That’s a far cry from the more than 100,000 prospective attorneys those schools drew a decade earlier.”

Bloomberg on March 19, 2015 published an article entitled: Law School Applications Set to Hit 15-Year Low. The article states: “Law schools keep getting less attractive to young professionals, with schools receiving 6.7 percent fewer applications this year than they did in 2014, according to numbers released by the Law School Admission Council on Wednesday, March 19. The number of individuals applying has also fallen, by 4.7 percent. If the pace continues as it did last year, the number of people who applied to law school for the Fall 2015 semester will hit its lowest level in 15 years.”

Crain’s New York published an article on March 24, 2015 entitled: Poor job prospects, huge debt. Why in the world would anyone want to go to law school?

Quartz on March 10, 2015 published an article entitled US students are fleeing law schools and pouring into engineering.

Considering this information and much more that is easily found, one might reasonably ask why anyone would want to increase the numbers of students heading to law school? As far as I can tell, the demand for lawyers is down sharply, and St. Cloud State looks to lose money on each student participating in this new program. At a time of budget deficit and cost cutting, what could be wrong with creating a program that projects losing money on each student?

Perhaps the thinking by the administration is that what is lost on each student can be made up in volume! And one wonders why SCSU is in such bad financial shape? Silly question!

One Response to “Minnesota needs more lawyers?”

  • Yeager says:

    The only unit that mentioned layoffs as a potential cost savings measure was University Advancement, and that was in terms of a reduction that would be larger than 10%.

    One interesting bit of data that was shared was data that compared our staffing to peer institutions – nearly across the board SCSU is staffed at 70% compared to those institutions. Our student population is about 90% of those institutions. Many units provided data that showed that staffing was below standard, from financial aid to GMW.

    It makes me wonder why the CFO keeps talking about jobs having to be cut – particularly from instruction – rather than fixing what appears to be a problematic revenue model.

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