In an effort to grow enrollment in the University of Iowa law school, officials are doing more than asking regents to approve a tuition decrease for some nonresident applicants.
During Thursday’s regents meeting in Iowa City, College of Law Dean Gail Agrawal said her department is diversifying course offerings, upping recruitment efforts and cutting costs – possibly in the form of faculty and staff.
“We have carefully reviewed our expenses and are making cuts where we can,” Agrawal said. “But 90 percent of our budget is devoted to salary and benefits for faculty and staff, so we are forced to get smaller.”
Some of that is being done through attrition, Agrawal said. She also has asked the UI’s human resources department to audit the college’s operational effectiveness and make an assessment on staffing levels. That audit is not yet complete, she said, but it could be in the coming weeks.
“I have no target on staff reduction,” Agrawal told the Iowa Board of Regents on Thursday. “I don’t have a plan to launch into layoffs.”
The UI law school has reported a declining enrollment in recent years, and Agrawal this fall requested approval to decrease tuition for several groups of applicants – nonresident Juris Doctor applicants, for example – in an effort to curb the decline.
The proposal to drop tuition from $47,252 to $39,500 for nonresident Juris Doctor applicants in the fall of 2014 would help offset national and regional trends that have negatively impacted the pool of law school applicants, Agrawal said.
Those trends include a decline in legal jobs since 2008, a drop in legal starting salaries, and a decrease in the number of people taking the law school admissions test.
Regents asked Agrawal to make a presentation about the college’s tuition request and other measures being taken to turn around applicant numbers Thursday during its discussion about 2014-2015 tuition and fees.
The regents in December will vote on tuition for next year, including a proposal to freeze rates for resident undergraduate students for a second straight year. For nonresident students at the UI, the proposal includes a tuition increase of $460 – or 1.8 percent – over the previous year.
The proposal ties suggested tuition rates, including the resident undergraduate rate freeze, to a request for a 4 percent increase in state funding for fiscal 2015.
In regards to UI law school enrollment and tuition, Agrawal said, the hope is that revenue decreases that result from tuition declines – should regents approve the request – will be offset by an increase in applicants.
She said the college also is planning to attract more students by offering new and diverse programming and by bolstering recruitment efforts in some areas – including internationally. She said the efforts are drastic but necessary.
“For years we were identified as a ‘best value’ proposition, but we are no longer on that list,” Agrawal said.
Nonresident tuition to the UI College of Law is fourth – almost third – among its peer schools, she said.
“A lower nonresident tuition would send a clear signal that we are responding to national concerns expressed about the high cost of legal education and debt,” Agrawal said. “We think this will strengthen our position … but these are very challenging times for the College of Law.”
Agrawal told the regents Thursday that the national downturn in law school applicants didn’t really hit UI until last year “when we suddenly saw a 50 percent decline in the number of nonresident applicants to Iowa.”
Resident student applications also declined, she said, but that dip was more in line with national shifts.