UNIVERSITY PARK — Just a few years after opening a campus at University Park, Penn State Law is scaling back its class size in response to a shrinking number of applicants.
The law school, as are many across the country, is feeling the effects of a dwindling number of students pursuing law degrees. Because of that, the school is reducing it class size and expanding its offerings.
According to the university, the number of applicants has dropped from a high of 5,326 in 2010 to 3,458 for the 2012 school year. Likewise, about 170 students are expected to start this fall, compared with about 185 in 2011.
Director of Communications Ellen Foreman said the school has been engaged in internal discussions about the best way to respond. That includes reducing class size so that we continue to have students of superior credentials and so that our graduates have a greater probability of securing meaningful work upon graduation.
At the same time, we are enlarging the scope of our high quality educational programs other than (juris doctorate) legal education, such as our (master of laws) program and shorter term professional education programs for U.S. and foreign judges, lawyers and other professionals, she said. Exactly how we implement and achieve this reduction is an open question still under discussion.
She said the school is also looking at cutting operating costs by reducing duplications in programs and staffing at Penn States two law campuses. She said the plans include maintaining a vibrant and substantial law school campus in Carlisle.
Penn State and Dickinson Law School in Carlisle became affiliated in 2000. Starting in fall 2006, law students could take classes at University Park as well, and in December 2008 Penn State opened the Lewis Katz Building off Park Avenue.
The number of applicants climbed after that peaking in 2010.
The numbers shifts at Penn State mirror the trend across the country. Nationally, students taking the Law School Admission Test dropped 16 percent in 2011-12 from the previous year, according to the Law School Admission Council, which administers them. Test-takers peaked in 2009- 10 at 171,514, dropping to 155,050 in 2010-11 and 129,958 in 2011-12.
Law school applicants have also dropped 14.4 percent as of June 1, according to the council.
Council spokeswoman Wendy Margolis said there isnt concrete data about why fewer students are applying to law school, but the cost of going combined with the poor job prospects in the current market are likely factors.
At Penn State, law school tuition for the 2012-13 year is listed at $39,600.
In the past, Margolis said, when the economy was experiencing a downturn and the business outlook wasnt as good for other professions, students would take the opportunity to go to law school.
This seems to be a little bit different, she said. It is a hefty decline (in law school enrollment generally).
She said people want to know that they will have good job prospects if they are going to spend the money to go to law school.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy