Law Schools

Court filing has more details about Cooley Law coming into compliance with admissions standard

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Cooley Law

When Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in March was found to be back in compliance with an ABA accreditation standard regarding admissions, it was after the school agreed to no longer admit students with predicted law school grade point averages below 2.1, and limit admittees with predicted GPAs between 2.2 and 2.49 to part-time enrollment, according to an accreditation committee decision made public in a recent court filing.

The law school sued the ABA in November 2017, after the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Accreditation affirmed an accreditation committee decision that found Cooley Law was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which focuses on admissions, and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions. Cooley argued in its U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan complaint that posting the 2017 accreditation letter violated the Higher Education Act and common-law due process.

Cooley Law’s May 25 court filing that includes the more recent accreditation committee decision, dated March 2018, asks the court for summary judgment, with a finding of liability against the ABA on all claims.

The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in April posted public notice, which was two paragraphs, stating that the accreditation committee had found that Cooley Law had demonstrated compliance with the standard by “concrete steps taken” regarding its admissions policy and practices.

In contrast, the March 2018 accreditation committee decision submitted as an exhibit has six pages detailing how the law school has raised minimum standards regarding applicants predicted law school GPAs. Those predictions are made based on correlation studies and regression techniques that the Law School Admissions Council uses in validity studies, according to the accreditation committee decision.

Neither Cooley Law nor Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, responded to an ABA Journal request for comment. Currier has previously stated that the ABA’s law school accreditation process includes opportunities for schools to address matters of noncompliance determined by the accreditation committee and the council.

Cooley Law’s admissions changes based on applicants’ predicted law school GPAs began in January 2018, according to the accreditation committee decision. Previously, applicants with predicted GPAs below 2.0 were denied admission, and those with predicted GPAs ranging from 2.35 to 2.49 were admitted under what is described as “presumptive regular admission, individual review.”

“It’s frustrating to read this. What it sounds like is that Cooley was able to get away with predatory admissions practices up until the ABA started paying attention, and once it was found out and they changed their tactics, they were absolved of any further responsibility. I’m not sure why the school does not deserve to be sanctioned for their noncompliance,” says Kyle McEntee, executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, a group that focuses on law school reform.

As of January 2018, Cooley Law students with predicted GPAs ranging from 2.24 to 2.49 are limited to taking between nine and 12 credit hours a term, according to the accreditation committee decision. A full courseload is usually between 14 to 16 credits, says David Frakt, a Florida lawyer and frequent critic of the accreditation process, who also chairs Law School Transparency’s national advisory council.

“I am not aware of any data that shows going to school part-time actually improves a student’s GPA,” he says. “I don’t see any citation [in the accreditation decision] to any data that it would enhance the likelihood of success for someone to ease into law school.”

Standard 316, which addresses bar passage rates, is also mentioned in the March 2018 accreditation committee decision. To be in compliance with the standard, law schools must show that at least 75 percent of graduates from the five most recent calendar years have passed a bar exam, or that there is a 75 percent pass rate for at least three of those five years. For Cooley Law’s class of 2015, its ultimate bar passage rate—which covers graduates who passed a bar examination within one and two years of graduation—was 69.75 percent.

The law school had 680 graduates in 2015, according to the accreditation committee decision. One graduate has not taken a bar exam, and the law school did not submit information for 51 others. If those graduates eventually took and passed a bar exam, the ultimate pass rate would rise to 72.06, the decision states. The pass rate for 2015 graduates could also improve if some of its repeat test-takers passed a bar exam, according to the decision.

The accreditation committee decision directs the law school to submit another report by Nov. 1, 2018. Information expected includes its class size, and an index of LSAT and undergraduate GPAs for 2018 entering classes, with individuals’ names redacted.

Average, annual tuition at Cooley Law is estimated at $51,330 for full-time students and $30,090 for part-time students, according to the school’s website. According to the school’s Standard 509 Information Report for 2017, it had a total of 1,203 students.

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