GRUNDA, Va. — Officials of Appalachian School of Law, Dean Lucy McGough and Judge Keary Williams, Chair of the Board of Trustees, announced this week that the school is down-sizing, returning to a total enrollment of 150-160, the size it enjoyed 10 years ago. Judge Williams explained that a smaller student body was more in keeping with the School’s mission and original design. In the past four years, the student body had grown to 250-300.
Nationally, fewer college graduates are taking the Law School Admissions Test and of that number, even fewer highly qualified applicants are deciding to pursue a legal education. As with most other law schools, ASL experienced a decrease in the number of qualified applicants last Fall, and anticipates a further decline for the coming academic year. “Although several of our sister law schools in this region are ballooning,” said McGough, “in view of the declining credentials of law school applicants, we believe we should take this opportunity to downsize and concentrate on what we do best: offering a practice-based curriculum in a small, engaged learning environment. We believe we can offer a student-teacher ratio of about 12-1, well below ABA suggestions for professorial accessibility.”
Downsizing will mean that the School will make several significant belt-tightening steps. At its March 11 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved across the board cuts to all administrative units, except Admissions, a substantial reduction in the law library’s budget (principally redundant sets of reporters), and to decrease the number of full-time faculty and reduce faculty salaries. Currently there are 222 students enrolled at ASL, but in foreseeable future, the School expects to become smaller, probably with a student body in the 150-165 range.
“We will become a smaller, even more student-centered institution,” McClough said. “We will return to our size in our early days when it began 15 years ago. We know how to live ‘lean’ until the numbers of qualified applicants rebound. We expect that increase to begin in two years, although we probably will decide to remain small.
“We are going forward with our nationally ranked specialty in Natural Resources Law and are adding a new specialty in Public Health Law. We remain committed to our mission of offering professional opportunities for college graduates in this six-state area and have opened two new programs, with part-time options, for a Masters degree in Legal Studies.”
The Masters degree is aimed at reaching those residents who may have a special interest in understanding a particular area of legal policy and regulations. As she summed up this plan, “We’re trying to meet the needs of many more Appalachians, not just those who want to become professionally licensed as practicing lawyers.”
Although the Law School is announcing budget cuts, it plans to invest in a greatly expanded distance-learning capability that will enable it to reach students who live and work in places too far away for a frequent commute to Grundy for their entire education. It hopes to be able to offer some on-line courses and conferences as early as next fall.