North Texas Daily

Students hesitant as UNT law school seeks accreditation

Students hesitant as UNT law school seeks accreditation

March 10
02:55 2016

Adalberto Toledo | @adaltoledo29

Sarah Sarder  | @sarderrr

Updated March 10

The UNT System established the UNT Dallas College of Law fall 2014 after a lengthy process. UNT’s law school is set back by its lack of accreditation by the American Bar Association.

As the newest of Texas’ nine law schools, UNT Dallas College of Law faces competition from some of the country’s top law programs, namely the University of Texas. However, what UNT’s law program has that others don’t is affordability, marketers said.

“Students won’t be burdened by heavy debt,” UNT Dallas College of Law dean Royal Furgeson said. “Even though we’re not accredited, there have been people that decided to join this journey with us from the very beginning.”

While students feel price is an important aspect to the law school they will go to, the fact it is not accredited by the ABA is a turn-off for others, and its position as a non-established school proves troublesome. The school received legislative authorization in 2009, when the Texas legislature approved the College of Law and earmarked $5 million of the state’s 2011-2012 budget.

The College of Law initially operated as a unit within the UNT System, and became a professional school within the University of North Texas at Dallas on Sept. 1, 2015.

“It’s just not very well established. There’s not much to go off of except three years of work that they’ve done,” communication senior Hayley Ford said. “That totally affects [my plans] because I want to work as soon as I graduate.”

She also said the university’s current status makes her think of it more negatively, though she would consider going there if by the time she graduates it becomes accredited. Only recently did the ABA go to the law school for a site visit, when it inspected every aspect of the program with a fine-toothed comb, Ferguson said.

The law college’s tuition is by far the most affordable in Texas. Residents pay $15,267 per academic year, compared to the School of Law at the University of Texas at Austin where tuition is around $33,000. The affordability brought many students to the law school, with 618 applications its first year when only 120 slots were presumed to be filled.

To political science senior Taylor Wilcox, UNTD is not on her radar of potential law schools. She said the cost of attending UT is worth it, and the fact that UNT’s law school is a year old makes her hesitant.

“Who knows if they’re still trying to figure things out,” Wilcox said. “I don’t want to be a guinea pig for them to figure it out.”

The administration of the UNTD College of Law is fully aware of these criticisms. While the law school can grant JD degrees, lack of accreditation means students cannot  take the bar examination required to practice law in Texas and other states.

Furgeson said the law school would be able to petition the Texas Supreme Court if their first class graduates without accreditation. The ABA’s accreditation does not grant a graduate the ability to take the bar exam, but a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court states only a law school approved by the American Bar Association can take the bar exam. Though the Supreme Court may grant graduates the ability to take the bar, they would not be able to take it in other states.

Eddie Meaders, principal lecturer for UNT’s Political Science Department, said the lack of accreditation might be a disadvantage for graduates in finding a job in an already saturated market. Meaders has 30 years of law experience, but did so in a time when the market’s demand was pretty much equal to its supply. On the national level, there were nearly twice as many bar exam passers (53,508) in ’09 than openings (26,239), according to a data spotlight by emsi.

“I tell my students there are probably going to be better choices until UNT Dallas gets up and running,” Meaders said. “I would rather see them going to a more established school and one that’s definitely accredited.”

Ferguson believes only focusing on accreditation is wrong and student debt should be taken just as seriously.

“One of the giant problems in law schools today is debt,” Furgeson said. “I just think that if you say all you’re going to look at is accreditation it’s too narrow of a view.”

The law school expects a response from the ABA any time this year, though Ferguson said it will most likely come in the fall or December at the latest. He cannot, however, many any promises about the law school’s accreditation.

“We feel that we have met all the stands for accreditation,” Furgeson said. “But can make no representations that we will receive accreditation. The ABA has been clear about that.”

CORRECTION: There were two fact errors in this story, which also was published in the Thursday, March 10, 2016, print edition of the North Texas Daily. It was claimed that students attending the law school cannot apply for financial aid. All students who entered in fall 2015 were able to apply for federal financial aid. All students applying for fall 2016 can apply for federal financial aid.  Access to financial aid is not related to American Bar Association accreditation.

Featured Image: The first graduating class of UNT Dallas College of Law pose at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas in 2014. Courtesy 

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