Western State lives on


So what's a law school going for these days?

How about a $1?  

While it's common knowledge that the law school crisis has been devastating for a number of institutions, does this mark a new low? A buck? You could have checked under your sofa cushions, found some quarters and bought a law school. 

Well, some perspective is necessary. 

For Western State — and its 400 students — the sale means new life. The future of the Irvine, Calif., school was very much in question not that long ago when its former owner, Dream Center Education Holdings, went into receivership. That company had taken ownership of Argosy University, which had run the law school, among other higher education institutions.

A deal was struck between the school and Westcliff University, a for-profit college also based in Irvine, allowing it to take over the reins. Just recently, a federal court in Ohio approved the acquisition. So instead of another law school closing, one gets a reprieve.

“But for Westcliff stepping forward, the school would have closed and its students would have been unable to complete their studies without arranging, on a student-by-student basis, to transfer to or visit at other law schools,” said Ed Trent, the general counsel for Westcliff University.

And about that price tag?

“After finding we had the determination, expertise, and financial resources to invest in reviving the school and building on its strong legacy, the Argosy receiver asked the court to approve the sale at this minimal amount, which it did.”

The school leadership was — one can imagine — doing handstands, given the uncertainity it has faced during the past year.

One wonders: Will that dollar bill be framed?

“We are incredibly grateful to Westcliff University for the commitment it has made to help secure a future for Western State College of Law, and to secure a means for our students to continue their education at Western State through to earning their degrees,” said Allen Easley, dean of Western State, in a statement.

Western State, which began as for-profit law school, has a long history. Indeed, founded in 1966, it's the oldest law school in Orange County. It received American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation in 1998.

However, its reputation has taken a hit as of late. The legal education watchdog organization, Law School Transparency, notes how academic standards for its entering class have dropped. According to one LST analysis, a quarter of the 2018 entering class has a "very high" risk of not passing the bar. That's because their LSAT score is 146, which is down by two points from the 25th percentile of the 2010 class. 

Bar passage has been an issue. Only 48% of first-time test-takers passed the bar in 2018. However, the ultimate bar passage rate for the Class of 2016 was 86%, above the 75% threshold the ABA requires. 

The school's enrollment has shrunk as well. In 2011, the school had 511 students, which fell to 350 by 2016.

Still, there was considerable excitement expressed by the parties involved, given how precarious Western College's position was. 

“We are delighted to welcome Western State into our family. We knew it would take a lot of work by many dedicated people, and today is the culmination of those efforts and a reason for celebration," said Anthony Lee, president and CEO of Westcliff.

Westcliff University was founded in 1993 and is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Westcliff offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration, information technology and computer science and education.

“We have committed to the ABA that we will continue to comply fully with all rules and regulations governing the operation of ABA approved law programs,” Lee stated. “This day would never have happened except for the strong support and assistance of ABA officials, the U.S. Department of Education, WSCUC, the court, the incredible staff and faculty at Western State, and the receiver. Everyone wanted to save this school.”

The law school is operating temporarily at its current site. Plans are under way to move it in 2020 to a location at or near Westcliff’s Irvine campus, Trent said.