South Dakota’s law school will be staying in Vermillion… sort of. At its final meeting today, USD’s Law School Task Force rejected the idea of moving the law school to Sioux Falls and instead approved a hybrid plan to develop some programs to offer in the big city to provide students with more opportunities to combine their studies with work opportunities with the Queen City’s big lawyer population.
USD should be careful about making too much of that hybrid. According to Megan Raposa, a lot of students think any requirement to do part of their three-year law program in Vermillion and another part in Sioux Falls would be chaos:
“I think that’s a terrible idea,” said Sara Little, third-year law student at USD.
Little, and most law students interviewed this week at the school agreed that wherever the school is, it should be fully in one location.
…”It would just be chaotic,” said third-year law student Kaleb Paulsen.
Morgan Nelson, a third-year law student and member of the task force, said students “resoundingly” oppose splitting the third year of the school between two towns.
“It would be detrimental to the community,” Nelson said.
Student Rachelle Norberg worries what dividing the third year would mean for class schedules. Norberg says many upper-level classes have a mix of second- and third-year students, and the logistics get complicated for professors and students alike if those classes are split 50 miles apart [Megan Raposa, “USD Law School: Students Oppose Idea of Partial Move to Sioux Falls,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.10.05].
I’m with the students there. Keep it simple: one law school, one campus. Learn a lesson from the failing University Centers and, instead of making a big fuss for aspiring legal eagles who aren’t willing to move more than ten minutes from Sanaa’s Restaurant, offer some online classes.
The University of South Dakota’s Law School Relocation Task Force held its inaugural meeting yesterday in Vermillion to talk about whether the state should move its only law school from the USD campus to Sioux Falls.
CFO Gestring says declining enrollment will hurt the law school’s budget:
Gestring shared pro forma financial data with the task force. Her numbers are based on a total law school enrollment of 182, 156 and 155 law students at USD in fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020 respectively.
“What we’ve used here is roughly 50 students per class,” she said.
Her calculations, when comparing the law school’s revenue to expenses those three years, show its budget to be in the red by nearly $186,000 in FY2018. In FY2019, that deficit increases to $655,000. By FY2020, the law school budget is expected to be nearly $658,000 in the red. Between FY 18 and FY19, Gestring calculates the law school could see a decrease in tuition of approximately $300,000.
Senator, former judge, USD law graduate, and Vermillion resident Arthur Rusch says declining enrollment transcends location and offers an uncomfortable reminder that a past Regental effort to boost enrollment by moving classrooms to Sioux Falls failed:
“…the decline in enrollment is a nationwide problem; it’s not a Vermillion problem, so why would we think that moving the location of the law school would necessarily be a solution?” he asked. “My understanding from the people that I’ve talked to is that the decline in law school enrollment nationwide is because there are other jobs available.
“Is there any real guarantee that moving the law school to Sioux Falls would increase the enrollment?” Rusch asked. “Recent publicity has shown that The University Center’s enrollment in Sioux Falls is half of what they anticipated, so would necessarily moving the law school solve that problem?” [David Lias, “Residents: Keep Law School in Vermillion,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2017.08.07].
USD law graduate and Vermillion City Council president Kelsey Collier-Wise says moving the law school to our biggest city won’t help South Dakota meet its most pressing legal workforce need, the lack of attorneys in our smaller towns:
“The purpose of the law school and why it is supported by South Dakota taxpayers is to make sure that everyone in our state has access to vital legal services,” she said. “Sioux Falls and Rapid City are not experiencing a shortage of attorneys that we are seeing in the rest of the state … I can’t imagine a potential student who wouldn’t even spend three years in Vermillion, which is too urban to qualify for Project Rural Practice, would somehow end up in Lemmon or Bison or one of the other communities that really needs legal services” [Lias, “Residents…,” 2017.08.07].
Rusch, Collier-Wise, and the other Vermillion residents who spoke yesterday frame a healthy conservative policy-debate perspective: unless the proponents of change can prove that moving from the USD campus in tranquil Vermillion to bustling Sioux Falls will solve our most significant problems, that other nationwide factors wouldn’t drown out any meager enrollment uptick from such a costly move, and that the harms to USD as an institution and the Vermillion economy wouldn’t outweigh the minor benefits of giving Sioux Falls one more advantage (120 students and 20 professors matter a lot more in a town of 11,000 than a city of 175,000), we should stick with the status quo.
That’s funny: I thought USD already charged students for a bar exam prep course: it’s called law school. The Regents’ move feels like a high school saying it’s going to spend money on ACT or SAT prep courses from Kaplan. Instead of letting tests measure what students learn in school, the Regents are apparently admitting USD can’t teach its own law curriculum effectively and must teach to the test, thus giving an out-of-state corporation (BARBRI is based in Dallas, Texas) a chance to cash in on our law students.
Charleston School of Law in South Carolina includes BARBRI materials in its curriculum. Charleston students who opt in to the BARBRI post-graduation seven-week review course pay $457.50 per semester… so at least USD students are getting a better deal.