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Appalachian School of Law announces 'downsizing'

March 18th, 2014 10:56 am by Stephen Igo

Appalachian School of Law announces 'downsizing'

The Appalachian School of Law. Times-News file photo by David Grace.

GRUNDY — The Appalachian School of Law (ASL) in Grundy has announced plans to downsize, capping enrollment at the school's original enrollment base, trim faculty positions and make other adjustments.

ASL Dean Lucy McGough and Judge Keary Williams, chair of the ASL Board of Trustees, on Tuesday announced the school will return to a total enrollment of 150-160, the size it enjoyed 10 years ago when the school opened.

Williams said a smaller student body was more in keeping with ASL's mission and original design. Over the last four years enrollment had grown to 250 to 300.

ASL officials said fewer college graduates are taking the Law School Admissions Test nationally and even fewer highly qualified applicants opt to pursue a legal education. As with most other law schools, ASL experienced a decrease in the number of qualified applicants last fall and school officials anticipate a further decline in the upcoming academic year.

"Although several of our sister law schools in this region are ballooning, in view of the declining credentials of law school applicants we believe we should take this opportunity to downsize and concentrate on what we do best: offering a practice based curriculum in a small, engaging environment," said McGough.

"We believe we can offer a student-teacher ratio of about 12-1, well below (American Bar Association) suggestions for professorial accessibility."

McGough and Williams said downsizing will include several other significant belt tightening steps as well. During its March 11 meeting the Board of Trustees approved across the board cuts to all administrative units except admissions, a substantial reduction in the law library's budget -- principally redundant sets of reporters -- and to decrease the number of full time faculty as well as reduce faculty salaries.

Currently there are 222 students enrolled at ASL, but officials said the school expects to become smaller in the foreseeable future.

"We will become a smaller, even more student centered institution. We will return to our size in our early days when it began 15 years ago. We know how to live 'lean' until the numbers of qualified applicants rebound. We expect that increase to begin in two years, although we probably will decide to remain small," McGough said.

ASL plans to continue with its nationally ranked specialty in Natural Resources Law and will add a new specialty in Public Health Law, she said.

"We remain committed to our mission of offering professional opportunities for college graduates in this six state area and have opened two new programs, with part time options, for a masters degree in legal studies," McGough said.

The masters degree program is aimed for those who may have a special interest in understanding a particular area of legal policy and regulations. "We're trying to meet the needs of many more Appalachians, not just those who want to become professionally licensed as practicing lawyers," she said.

Although the school is announcing budget cuts, it plans to invest in a "greatly expanded" distance learning capability to enable the ASL to serve students who live and work too far away for a frequent commute to Grundy for their entire education, McGough said. The school hopes to be able to offer some online courses and conferences as early as next fall.

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