Western Michigan — Cooley to cut tuition and close one campus


Western Michigan University Cooley School of Law is cutting tuition by 21% and closing its Auburn Hills campus, one of four it operates. The Lansing-based private law school — once the nation’s largest when it came to enrollment — has seen its student body shrink considerably since 2011.

It’s the second of the school’s campuses to close. It had shuttered its Ann Arbor campus in 2014.

The tuition cut — approved on August 28 by the school’s board of directors — is being done because the cost of legal education has become too high, said school President and Dean James McGrath, who was hired this summer.

“We realize that a significant part of providing access to legal education is cost. To put it simply, we became too expensive,” McGrath said.

Western Michigan currently charges $1,750 per credit hour. That will be reduced to $1,375 beginning in the fall of 2020. A student needs 90 credit hours to graduate.

According to Law School Transparency, a legal education watchdog organization, the non-discounted cost of going to Western Michigan totals $267,747. Nearly 60 percent of students pay full freight.

Meanwhile, just 42 percent of the school’s first-time test-takers passed the 2018 bar, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

Closing the Auburn Hills campus will help right-size the institution, McGrath said.

“Our current campus structure was built at a time when the demand for legal education was significantly higher,” he said. “By reducing our excess capacity we will have improved resources to strengthen our position as a leader of modern legal education.”

The Auburn Hills campus was launched in 2002. In 2009, the school spent $36 million for a 65,000 square-foot addition that doubled the size of the campus. At the time, school leaders said the campus would be able to accommodate 1,200 students 

Western Michigan also has campuses in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Tampa Bay, Fla.

In 2010, the school had more than 3,900 students, unmatched in legal education. Then came the law school crisis. The Great Recession torpedoed the legal job market and prospective students became scarce. 

Today, the school enrolls 1,269 students.

Founded in 1972 as Thomas H. Cooley Law School, it became affiliated with Western Michigan University in 2014, a move done to shore up the institution.

“The Board believes,” McGrath said, “that lowering tuition, maintaining the higher admissions standards adopted in January 2019, and reducing its footprint will allow the law school to maintain its access mission, continue to serve a diverse population, improve student outcomes, and strengthen its affiliation with Western Michigan University.” 






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