Attorney Kathy Purnell, justice for Our Neighbors Michigan, and Paul Yancho, assistant prosecuting attorney in Kalamazoo, shared their experience as lawyers during WMU-Cooley's student orientation program at its Kalamazoo location on Aug. 29.

Attorney Kathy Purnell, justice for Our Neighbors Michigan, and Paul Yancho, assistant prosecuting attorney in Kalamazoo, shared their experience as lawyers during WMU-Cooley's student orientation program at its Kalamazoo location on Aug. 29.

Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School has recently slashed tuition by 21%. The new tuition structure will take effect in September of 2020 and will lower the current rate of $1750 per credit hour to $1375 per credit hour.

“When I first presented this big tuition reduction, I was met by some skepticism. However, the more I discussed it and explained the cascading effects of recruiting students and lowering student debt, everybody agreed that should be a priority,” said WMU-Cooley President and Dean James McGrath.

McGrath believed it was important to get back in line with providing a good value for the school’s students. “I think it could be very helpful for students saying, I could choose between these schools but this other one is so much more... We think that could be very attractive,” said McGrath.

In addition to the tuition reduction, the board of directors is also seeking approval to close the school’s satellite campus in Auburn Hills by the end of 2020 and reduce the resource/infrastructure budget on the campus in Lansing. 

Mcgrath describes the measure as an effort to consolidate its resources and provide students with a learning experience that offers more value at the end of the day. “We just kept raising the tuition to meet our expenses as opposed to adjusting our expenses to meet what a student can reasonably expect for tuition. This is a very student focused move, it is good for the students,” he said.

McGrath is convinced that the Cooley Law School simply does not need all of their current infrastructure. “These buildings are very expensive to operate and maybe we don’t really need all these campuses. I think we can reduce our debt ratio by selling buildings and reduce our costs by not operating as many. That allows us the luxury of bringing the tuition down,” he said.

The Cooley Law School supports more than 200 full and part-time faculty members across their network. McGrath does not intend on losing or letting go of any faculty members during the consolidation process.

Since its inception, Cooley Law School has always been very student and teaching focused. “A lot of other schools are not as concerned with teaching as Cooley is,” said McGrath. “Cooley has been at the forefront of implementing scientifically proven learning techniques. We want to go all in on using what we have learned on our own and from the alignment with WMU to become a showcase of modern legal education,” he added.

McGrath stressed the importance of utilizing active learning techniques in the classroom and making sure that students are more involved in actually acquiring knowledge rather than just trying to memorize facts and figures.

“Lawyers are going to be life-time learners, their whole life they will have to learn new law. Lawyers are constantly learning so we want to make sure they are the best self regulated learners they can be,” said McGrath.

McGrath and the board of directors hope to restore a bit of the school’s former glory with this plan. According to data from the American Bar Association, Cooley’s enrollment has fallen from a staggering 3,900 students in 2010 to less than 1,300 in 2016. During the same time frame, law school enrollment nationwide fell by nearly 30%.

From 2016-2017 to 2017-2018, the size of Cooley’s first year class increased from 458 to 504 students. Although enrollment is slowly trending upwards once again, it has not quite met the rate the board expects and desires. Mcgrath expects enrollment to increase following the reduction in tuition.

 

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