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Applicant pool dries amid talks of merger

Rutgers Law: Speculation hurting Camden recruiting

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A dramatic drop in applications to the law school at Rutgers University’s Camden campus is being seized upon by opponents of Rowan University’s takeover of the South Jersey campus, and most hurt may be Rutgers–Camden’s ability to get the prized top-tier students to commit to a school that’s increasingly seen as being in flux.

Rutgers–Camden Law is “assuming we’ll have a smaller class next year,” said its dean, Rayman Solomon. It’s partly a national trend — applications to U.S. law schools have declined 16 percent, as the economic recovery has led to more people seeking work, rather than sit in a classroom — but Solomon said at Rutgers–Camden, “we’re down more than that because of the merger”: As of April 4, he said, applications are 30 percent off where they were a year ago.

Solomon said the three questions he is asked most frequently by prospective students are which name would be on the student’s diploma, whether the school will maintain its accreditation and if there will be an exodus of faculty if the school is merged into Rowan. And while Solomon can give reasonable assurance things will remain essentially unchanged for the 2012-13 school year, beyond then remains uncertain.

Beyond applications, other indicators of student recruitment also are down, Solomon said, including early deposits and attendance at events for admitted students — such as Dean’s Law Day, on March 31, at which attendance dropped by more than half. And the top-tier students Rutgers–Camden has recruited in the past are unlikely to commit to a school with an uncertain future, he added.

“The caliber of students is still strong, but more schools are competing over fewer quality students,” Solomon said. “It is not a good situation to be in.”

Meanwhile, at Seton Hall Law School, of Newark, applications are down, but deposits are tracking last year’s pace, as is student event attendance. The school is purposely trying to lower its enrollment to match pre-recession levels, due to declines in legal employment, said Gisele Joachim, dean of admissions for Seton Hall Law.

“We’ve been concerned with ensuring we keep up the terrific employment results,” Joachim said. “Part of that led to the belief and movement towards becoming a slightly smaller law school.”

Joachim said a spike in applications at Seton Hall Law School in 2010 was part of a national trend that saw increased interest in attending law school. According to the national Law School Admission Council, applications reached a high of 602,252 in 2010 before dropping off in 2011.

Joachim said the school started shrinking its classes last year, going from 249 to 203 students. And while she said there’s little overlap in applicants between Seton Hall and Rutgers–Camden, she said Rutgers-Newark and Philadelphia schools could capitalize on recruiting away top students concerned about Camden’s uncertain future. Multiple law schools in Philadelphia declined to provide admission and enrollment data for this story.

“Things appear in upheaval,” Joachim said. “I think that’s hard for students to make a decision to enroll in that situation, but I don’t think Seton Hall is necessarily in the best position for those students.”

The decreasing class size of Rutgers’ law school is also a concern for the entire university. The law school is the largest graduate program at Rutgers–Camden, making up roughly 45 percent of the 1,800 graduate students enrolled. There are 6,500 total students enrolled at the university’s Camden campus.

“Just from a historical perspective, the law school was here before the rest of the college. It was the early beginnings of the institution,” said Rodney Morrison, associate chancellor for enrollment management for Rutgers–Camden. “It’s important for all of our programs, including the law school, to have full enrollments every year.”

That’s particularly true now, as Rutgers–Camden will open a 500-bed, $38.7 million graduate student dormitory this fall. Morrison said there is still plenty of demand for the dormitory, despite law school enrollment’s anticipated decrease, as the large base of commuter students has expressed interest in on-campus housing. According to the school’s housing website, all graduate students at Rutgers–Camden who fill a housing agreement for the 2012-13 school year will be assigned to the new building, at 330 Cooper St.

“We know we’re going to fill it,” Morrison said. “It just depends on who is here and who we are going to fill it with.”

 

E-mail to:  mcaliendo@njbiz.com
On Twitter:  @MCaliendo33

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