Seton Hall University School of Law had offered weeknight classes dating back to the 1950s. But by 2016 enrollment had dwindled to the point that continuing to offer these classes was no longer feasible.
“After the economic crash of 2008, law school applications nationally contracted by about 50 percent,” said Kathleen Boozang, Seton Hall University School of Law Dean. “But even before 2008 part-time applications were dwindling.”
Then last year, the law school began offering weekend and online classes, and that’s when everything started to change.
“We have been blown away by how successful it has been,” Boozang said. “This is structured in a way that is resulting in a better quality educational experience. The other thing that is a result of the weekend program is we have returned to the students being working professionals.”
The 2017-18 weekend class enrolled 47 students, and they scored higher on the LSAT than the previous cohort of students.
It was during the summer of 2016 when Boozang asked the faculty curriculum committee to meet to identify alternatives to the weeknight classes in response to the changing needs of Seton Hall students. Many are police officers, firefighters, accountants, business professionals and information technology professionals who cannot attend classes during the week, even in the evenings.
Boozang said that by 2017, several of the evening students were recent college graduates working day jobs to pay their tuition.
“I wondered if there was a way to think outside the box and still keep a way for a part-time pursuit of a law degree,” Boozang said. “Historically the evening program was for working professionals who had other pathways for whom law school would be a second career. We had noticed about 10 years ago that the evening program was increasingly comprised of people who would otherwise be day students who were getting jobs to pay their way through law school.”
“Another part of the process had been to go to the law school’s board of visitors who comprise our alumni leaders, many of whom graduated from the program,” she continued. “I was very worried from a legacy perspective that they would want us to preserve the evening program but they are businesspeople. They universally supported trying the weekend program.”
In the last year of the weeknight evening program the rate of absenteeism was 25 percent, Boozang said. Absenteeism was prohibited in the first year of the weekend program.
“[Weekend class] provides a legal education the way we have always done in a format that works for working professionals,” Associate Dean Timothy Glynn said. “It worked in precisely that way. While they are not here, a portion of the content is delivered online.”
Gisele Joachim, the university’s dean of enrollment management for 15 years, saw how participation in the evening program dwindled. A primary reason, she said, was fewer companies were paying for their employees to attend law school.
“The evening program at Seton Hall and law schools across the country were seeing a decline in interest,” Joachim said. “A lot of that decline came in the form of a real shift in work habits, in employer-employee benefits, in corporations. The ability for midcareer or early career professionals to be able to work in a full-time professional job and take on even a part-time law school enrollment at night became less feasible.”