Whittier's diversity numbers make historic rebound

Whittier Law School has made a historic rebound on its diversity numbers. The Costa Mesa, Calif.-school reported 51.58 percent diversity for its 2013 incoming class.

“Over the last several years we have done more and more things to encourage diverse applicants to apply,” said Tom McColl, Associate Dean of Enrollment Management and Administration said.

The law school last enrolled a class with diversity above 51 percent in 2000. Unfortunately, only 31 percent of that class passed the bar exam on the first try. That, in part, led to the American Bar Association placing the school on probation in 2005.

Whittier then focused on admitting students with higher LSAT scores, which hurt its diversity numbers. The percent of minorities dropped to 27.6 percent in 2009.

The school filed a complaint regarding its probation with the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the ABA acted without an approved rule. The Secretary of Education eventually found the ABA in violation of federal regulations, and the ABA responded by adopting a new bar passage rule in February 2008. Whittier, which saw the ordeal as a battle to remain faithful to its diversity mission, was taken off probation in summer 2008.

During the three-year probation, Whittier lost 12 faculty members and student attrition soared. Enrollment dropped from more than 1,000 in 2004 to less than 600 by 2007. That left the school in difficult financial shape.

“Diversity is, and has always been, a centerpiece of Whittier’s identity,” said Judy DeVine, Director of Communications and Marketing at the law school. “[Diversity is] the heart of our school and very important to us. It’s also important for our students’ futures.”

McColl said Whittier Law School focuses on diversity in the application and admissions process. He added that he believed more students from diverse backgrounds were applying to law school than in past years.

“One of the things that’s important, at least in the legal market for California, is being able to take advantage of the fact that the California market is very diverse,” he said.

But the school’s efforts have allowed it to admit a more diverse student body, while at the same time maintaining its bar pass rate. The school posted a 70 percent pass rate on the July 2012 exam, its highest since 1998, with the exception of 2008. It posted a 56 percent pass rate in July 2011.

The school introduced an extensive prep program for incoming and current students while it was on probation. It changed its bar prep program three years ago.  

McColl said the school is also very active with the Law School Admissions Council’s diversity pipeline program, a program that targets minority applicants and creates incentives for them to apply to law school. Also, the law school has hosted diversity programming on campus to invite students from different backgrounds to visit the school.