Arizona Summit plans to affiliate with historically black college

Arizona Summit Law School, a private for-profit law school, intends to affiliate with Bethune-Cookman University, one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, located in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The National Jurist named Arizona Summit as the Most Diverse Law School in the nation, thanks to a strong mix of African-American students (20 percent), Hispanic students (18 percent) and Asian students (6 percent).

The school, one of three ABA-accredited schools owned by The InfiLaw System, announced Friday that the proposed affiliation could result in a smaller law school with potentially lower costs. The affiliation is subject to regulatory approvals.

However, the school did not release any details on the financial arrangement of the affiliation, meaning it is unclear if the law school would remain for-profit or not. 

In a press release, the schools said the affiliation would establish an HBCU presence beyond the traditional geographical boundaries of both institutions. They have shared objectives of “inclusive excellence in professional education and diversifying the nation’s least diverse white collar profession.” 

“Leadership in legal education should be judged on the basis of how well a law school prepares students for a rapidly changing profession and how well it responds to society’s legacy issues, accounts for rapidly changing demographics, and adapts to new and emerging realities,” said Bethune-Cookman (B-CU) President Edison Jackson.

Arizona Summit’s President Donald Lively said the affiliation could enhance the law school’s stature, strengthen student outcomes and help make legal education more affordable.

The press release said the affiliation would allow for the law school to be “characterized by consistently strong student outcomes and bar examination performance.”

But, the school needs improvements in these areas. It has struggled with its bar passage the past few years. Of the graduates in the Class of 2016 who took the bar exam, only 25 percent passed. That’s down from 96.7 percent in 2008. The school is among 11 law schools that have let the median LSAT scores of incoming students to fall below 145.

It was also one of three for-profit law schools that received a warning under the Department of Education’s new gainful employment standard, which is meant to strengthen the federal student aid program and protect students from misleading recruitment practices.

Arizona Summit announced an intent to affiliate in August, and named a new interim dean in mid-February. Penny Willrich succeeded Shirley Mays, who had been dean since 2010. Mays was reassigned to facilitate the school’s “integration into a university pursuant to a planned acquisition.”

The school already had a relationship with Bethune-Cookman, and provided early admission for its graduates.

“B-CU’s presence in the Far West is a landmark moment in higher education,” Lively said. “B-CU not only is redefining the HBCU model but positioning itself into being a major force and role model in higher education generally.”

The schools also said they are exploring international programs and initiatives focused on underdeveloped and developing nations where American law schools are not established.

Arizona Summit won’t be the first law school to affiliate with a larger university.

In 2014, Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated with Western Michigan University, changing its name to Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Both school retain their governance and fiduciary independence.