Penn State

Penn State cutting law school tuition for state residents

The cost of a law degree at Penn State will be significantly cheaper for Pennsylvania residents who are accepted for the Class of 2014.

Penn State will cut the cost of tuition at The Dickinson School of Law $20,000 a year as part of a financial incentive that officials at the university hope will boost admissions at a time when law schools nationwide have seen fewer students enroll because of the economy and the cost of an education. It’s available to students at both University Park and Carlisle campuses who show Pennsylvania residency.

While the tuition rate for 2014-15 has not been set yet, the discount will result in the equivalent of a free semester. This year’s tuition was $20,544 for each semester, or $41,088 for the year for in- and out-of-state students.

The discount can be renewed each of the three years required for the degree for a total savings of $60,000.

“We have a superb academic program with some of the nation’s finest classroom teachers and experiential learning opportunities, yet our research shows that some individuals are unable to take advantage of it because of cost,” said James Houck, the law school’s interim dean. “This program will increase access to legal education for well-qualified Pennsylvania residents who otherwise may not have considered us.”

The discount will make Penn State a less-expensive option than the University of Pittsburgh’s law school, whose in-state tuition was almost $30,000 for this year. It’ll bring Penn State’s tuition closer to that of Temple University’s law program, which was almost $20,000 this year for Pennsylvania residents.

“We just want to make sure that we’ve got a level playing field for the best students in the state,” Houck said.

Houck insisted that Penn State will not lower or relax its admissions standards to build back robust enrollment numbers.

Enrollment has been declining each year since 2010, when the incoming class numbered 225 students between the two campuses. This year’s cohort was 132 students, down 17.5 percent from the 160 enrolled for 2012.

The University Park campus has had between two-thirds and three-quarters of the law school’s student population during that time frame.

Penn State will provide the law school with the funding to offer the grant program. Provost Nick Jones supported the funding, saying the law school is critical to the university’s mission as a teaching and research institution.

“In addition to providing superb legal education, a vibrant law school enriches all of our university programs,” he said. “As law schools across the nation are adjusting to a rapidly changing legal marketplace, Penn State is committed to ensuring that its law school continues as a leader in legal education in the commonwealth, and beyond.

“We are optimistic that our financial aid program will serve this goal.”

The financial aid program comes at a time of flux for the law school.

The university is seeking separate accreditation for both campuses through the American Bar Association. The move was given the green light by Penn State’s board of trustees earlier this year, and Houck said the university should get word sometime in the first half of 2014.