Albany Law could affiliate with U Albany in effort to stabilize enrollment

Albany Law School expects to draft an affiliation agreement with University of Albany before the end of the year, after the governing boards at both schools approved such discussions.

If the agreement is approved by both schools it could be in place by the 2015-2016 school year. But no one is sure yet whether it will be a loose affiliation or a merger.

"It's not a done deal," said Robert Jones, president of University of Albany at a university senate meeting in late September. "There are more compelling reasons, from my perspective, to do this than not."

David Singer, director of communications at Albany Law School, said it is unclear whether Albany Law will remain an independent entity or function as University of Albany's law school.

“We are too early in the process,” he said. “Two committees will present to our board in November.”

Albany Law School is the nation's oldest independent law school. But it has seen enrollment decline from 720 students in 2010-2011 to 480 this fall, a 33 percent drop in three years. That represents more than $8 million in lost revenue.

It offered voluntary buyouts to tenured and long-term contract faculty in February to reduce costs.

The law school is hopeful the affiliation would pool the resources of both schools and stabilize the law school's enrollment. It would bring a professional degree program to University of Albany.

The merger or affiliation discussion started a few months ago, spurred in part by a new strategic plan that calls for the law school to reduce tuition dependence.

The strategic plan also introduced six educational pathways, designed to educate students and help them find careers.

The school will help students focus their curriculum, work with a mentor, plan internships and plan for a career.

The pathways are: Business, Tax and Financial Markets; Government, Policy and Public Service; Health; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Public Interest Law; and Civil and Criminal Advocacy.

"The strategic plan offers a bold approach to modern legal education," said Daniel P. Nolan, chairman of Albany Law School's Board of Trustees. "The Opportunity Pathways concept draws on our historic strengths as an institution, including our location in New York's capital and our community of prominent alumni, to help the next generation of law students find rewarding careers as lawyers and leaders in many fields."

University of Albany has centers that overlap with the pathways, such as its Rockefeller Center for Policy Research, Singer said.

The university is located three miles from the law school and enrolls about 17,000 students and charges $9,717 a year in tuition and fees. Albany Law charges $43,248 a year in tuition, up from $24,125 ten years ago.

The two institutions already work together on joint degrees.

Law school dean Penelope Andrews, who joined the school in 2012, told the Albany Business Journal that the school could model the affiliation off the relationship between Michigan State University and the Michigan State University College of Law.

The Detroit College of Law affiliated with Michigan State University in 1995 and moved from Detroit to Lansing in 1997. It has remained a private, non-profit, independent law college and receives no state or university funding. But the law school shares academic resources with the larger university.

After the merger, the law school benefited from an improved reputation among lawyers and judges. That, in turn, helped it rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Thomas Cooley Law School affiliated with Western Michigan University in August. It is now Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, but it is still a private, independent institution.

Albany Law School is a member of Union University, a federation of seven graduate and undergraduate institutions in New York. Each member institution has its own governing board, is fiscally independent, and is responsible for its own programs. Singer said it is more of a traditional relationship, dating back to 1873, than a functional one.