In an effort to reduce the loan burden holding down top-tier potential law students' decisions to attend private schools over more affordable public ones, Seton Hall University has extended its merit-based tuition discount program to its law school for the 2013-14 academic year.
"As the law school market is now facing a national problem with lower enrollment, a lot of schools have decided to reduce their standards to increase their numbers. But through this program, Seton Hall is maintaining its standards while also attracting more candidates," said Jeremy Farrell, an associate of the Morristown office of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP and a member of Seton Hall Law's alumni council. "It's a helpful tool to attract the best talents both in and out of New Jersey, and when those kids graduate, they're going to be well placed as the most competitive job candidates in the state."
Unlike traditional graduate-level merit-based scholarships, which typically are offered to admitted students on a case-by-case basis, Seton Hall Law's program will automatically slash tuition by more than 50 percent — from $47,330 to $22,330 — for all full-time first-year law students from all states who meet the academic criteria for the discount: an LSAT score of 158 or higher and an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 or above. Seton Hall University enacted tuition cuts for undergraduate students who qualified last fall, but the law school will be the first graduate program to carry the torch.
Seton Hall Law School Dean Patrick E. Hobbs said in a statement the university extended its tuition reduction program to the law school because "the legal industry is undergoing substantial change, and for those who choose law, we have a duty to respond in a meaningful way — making legal education more practice-oriented and employment-focused, as well as more affordable."
Farrell said a school's affordability is a key to swaying prospective New Jersey law students' decisions, especially since salaries in the state's law industry are below the national average.
"Our legal market is recovering, but it's not at all where it was pre-2007," Farrell said. "There's still a fear among applicants that they're not going to be placed in a job in New Jersey where they can afford to pay off a loan based on the normal tuition rates at private schools. The hope is that cutting down tuition for those students will alleviate that concern."
Farrell said easing loan burdens will allow more graduates to take "creative jobs" at startup firms, or positions in the public or nonprofit sectors, where he said jobs are becoming more available — but "students who want to do that work just cannot afford to do it with their loans, so a lot of folks end up having to go the traditional corporate route."
Though the employment picture remains grim at New Jersey's corporate law firms, Sheri Pastor, leader of Newark-based McCarter & English's insurance coverage practice group, said Seton Hall Law offering reduced tuition reduction to only its highest-quality applicants is "a positive development not just for the law school, but for the students that graduate three years from now."
"It can only work in the school's benefit to graduate students that have essentially higher GPAs and skill sets," Pastor said. "It's a tough market for recent grads, because they're competing with people who have been practicing law and are out of jobs. But if Seton Hall's program works and is coupled with changes in the curriculum to provide more hands-on training, then I would expect it will give graduates a greater ability to attract job offers."