University of Akron and St. Mary's defend low merit scholarship retention rates

By Alicia Albertson 

Despite being credited with the lowest merit scholarships retention rates, The University of Akron School of Law and St. Mary’s University School of Law still believe in their merit scholarship programs.

In fact, both schools believe that the recent study by University of St. Thomas School of Law - Minneapolis law professor Jerry Organ doesn’t accurately reflect the schools’ merit scholarship retention rates. The study analyzed website statistics for 140 ABA-accredited schools that offered conditional scholarships based on academic achievement for entering students in 2011 and found that both the University of Akron and St. Mary’s University had retention rates of only 21 percent. The study found that only eight schools had retention rates lower than 40 percent. The average retention rate was 69 percent, while 26 law schools had retention rates of 90 percent or better.

In the past, schools did not disclose the figures, so students had no idea of the retention rates. Some felt they were duped when they failed to keep their scholarships. The ABA now requires the schools to release the information. 

University of Akron Interim Dean Elizabeth Reilly said she believed the statistics failed to take into account the law school’s tiered retention rate, which allows students with lower GPAs to retain a portion of their merit scholarships. 

“I think the most important thing when we talk about merit scholarships is for there to be a very full context placed around those merit scholarships so that it’s not just a single data point like retention of 100 percent of the amount,” Reilly said.

Reilly said the tiered system allowed students in the entering class of 2011 who achieved a 3.3 GPA or higher to retain all of their merit scholarships, while students who earned a 2.8 GPA or higher had the opportunity to keep 50 percent of their merit scholarships. Roughly 15 to 20 percent of the class retained 50 percent of their merit scholarships.

St. Mary’s University Dean Charles Cantu said he also believed there was a misconception about merit scholarships, pointing out that while St Mary’s University did provide merit scholarships to roughly 68 percent of its matriculating class. The law school also offers 78 endowed scholarships to students to assist with funding students’ legal educations.

“We’re trying to attract and enroll top quality applicants who we know are going to succeed the first year of law school and maintain a B average,” Cantu said. “Secondly, we’re also attempting to continue our fundraising activities to provide more scholarship or tuition assistance money to these individuals.”

St. Mary’s University required students to achieve a 3.0 GPA or higher to retain their merit scholarships.  According to Cantu, students also were required to meet the standards of a relatively strict curve which prohibited allotting a grade of A, A- or B+ to more than 20 percent of the students in a first year course, making it difficult for many students to attain a 3.0 average GPA.

Both law schools acknowledged that it was difficult for students to keep their merit scholarships, but stressed that transparency was extremely important during the admissions process.

“Students need to understand what their scholarships mean and what their opportunities for retention are because they have to be able to plan all the way through,” Reilly said