Penn State to cut tuition by almost half for Penn. residents


Only a year after it decided to divide into two separate law schools, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law has announced it will cut tuition by almost half for Pennsylvania residents.

Penn State Law will offer residents an annual grant of $20,000 through the Commonwealth Scholars program. The program will be available to any student enrolling in the fall of 2014, so long as they are residents of Pennsylvania. The grant is renewable for three years. Tuition is normally $41,088 for in-state students.

“We have a superb academic program with some of the nation’s finest classroom teachers and experiential learning opportunities,” Penn State Interim Dean James W. Houck said in a press release. “Yet our research shows that some individuals are unable to take advantage of it because of cost. This program will increase access to legal education for well-qualified Pennsylvania residents who otherwise may not have considered us.”

Penn State has seen applications plummet from 5,326 in 2010 to 1,885 in 2013. Enrollment has also dropped, from 228 entering students in 2010 to 132 this year. This comes at the same time that the school is in the process of splitting into two separate schools.

Penn State took over Carlisle-based Dickinson School of Law, a private school, in 2000. It planned to move the law school to State College but ran into opposition in 2005. Instead, it opened its State College campus in 2006 and has operated the two campuses as one single entity since then. In 2008, it received a $25 million grant from a regional government entity to upgrade the Carlisle campus, but with the caveat that first-, second- and third-year programs remain in the state capitol until at least 2020.

The recent decline in applications and enrollment forced the law school to reconsider that arrangement. The law school asked the regional authority to approve shifting all first-year law students to State College, in order to consolidate and cut expenses. But the regional authority declined.

So, the faculty voted to separate into two different schools, with Carlisle to be a more regional law school with relaxed admissions standards, and State College to focus on being a national law school. But with the drop in enrollment and reduction in tuition, some say the plan is risky.

Paul Campos, a law professor at University of Colorado and a regular commentator on legal education, said the plan might be to let the Carlisle campus close.

“Once it has been spun off, the Carlisle version of the school will simply be allowed to die (recall that the campus can be closed in a little more than six years from now if the university declares a financial exigency), thereby permitting PSU to offload around a third of its tenured faculty all at once,” he wrote on his blog. Lawyers, Guns & Money. “The physical plant will be sold off to Dickinson College for pennies on the dollar, the university’s budget will unburden itself of about a dozen expensive faculty lines, and the Dickinson College of Law, will, after nearly two centuries, cease to exist.”

While the split will return the Carlisle campus back to what it was in 2000, the grant program will reduce tuition to approximately what it was in 2002.