By Tyler Roberts
Fewer than 270 students remain at Charlotte School of Law this spring — less than half the number from the fall and less than a third from last year — and there are still no guarantees for a smooth end to their legal education.
Students and faculty of the imperiled Charlotte School of Law are resorting to unprecedented measures after the Department of Education pulled Title IV federal financial aid from the Infilaw System-owned school. There are GoFundMe campaigns, food drives and offers of $1,000 interest-free loans. (Packages of Ramen and $1,000 won’t go far when students have six figures of debt.) Alumni have also asked for the school’s leadership to resign.
Students desperate for funding may receive reprieve in the form of a teach-out plan, which would allow them to complete their legal education while receiving federal financial aid. A “teach-out plan,” as defined by the Department of Education, is a written course of action a school that is closing will take to ensure its students are treated fairly with regard to finishing their programs of study.
“While we have not yet reached an agreement with the Department of Education respecting the precise conditions for the release of the second disbursement of Direct Loan proceeds to those students entitled to such funding, we and the department agree that there is a path forward to reach such an agreement,” Chidi Ogene, the president of Charlotte Law, and Jay Conison, the school’s dean, said in a release.
The plan appoints Florida Coastal School of Law, another for-profit law school owned by InfiLaw, to serve as the school’s teach-out partner. Although students would complete their legal education in Charlotte, Florida Coastal would be responsible for distributing federal student aid and administering student and career services.
One essential function of Florida Coastal would be ensuring that the quality of Charlotte Law’s academic program is up to snuff with DOE expectations.
This is where students may want to consider their options very carefully. Florida Coastal recently failed the DOE’s gainful employment standard and also risks losing access to federal financial aid in the near future. If students go through with this plan, they may not be eligible for federal loan discharge, whereas, if they restart their legal education at a new school, they could have those previous loans wiped clear.
It is not clear whether Charlotte Law is closing, or if the teach-out plan is simply a contingency in the event that other options to reconcile with the DOE remain unworkable. The school’s website does not indicate that there are plans to shut down operations, and applications for the 2017-18 school year can still be submitted.
The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, charged with reviewing the plan, will determine the school’s fate at its next meeting in March. Should the plan be approved, the school will remain open until December 2019 — the final anticipated graduation date of any currently enrolled student.