Up to $2.1 million in student aid improperly disbursed for LLMs, Education Department says
Five stand-alone, ABA-accredited law schools recently entered settlement agreements with the U.S. Department of Education for disbursing federal aid to LLM students without the necessary accreditation.
According to an Aug. 24 news release from the Education Department, agreements do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing or liability.
The matter involves accreditation oversight for law schools offering programs in addition to JD degrees. ABA-accredited law schools have to receive an acquiescence from the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar to offer programs other than a JD, but that is where ABA oversight stops with non-JD programs, according to the section’s website.
Considering that, freestanding law schools with ABA accreditation must secure additional accreditation, which cover Title IV requirements, to distribute federal student aid for non-JD programs, according to the Education Department’s news release.
Almost $2.9 million in ineligible disbursements were made to 92 students between July 2017 and June 2022, according to the news release. A department spokesperson told the ABA Journal in an email that the agency usually uses an estimated loss formula to calculate liabilities for ineligible loans, and the schools are not reimbursing the agency for the full amount disbursed.
According to the Education Department, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School improperly disbursed $20,000 and paid $1,400 in liabilities. The Albany Law School in New York improperly disbursed $61,000 and paid $6,200 in liabilities. New England Law in Boston improperly disbursed $68,000 and paid $4,200 in liabilities. The New York Law School improperly disbursed $610,000 and paid $54,500 in liabilities. The Brooklyn Law School in New York improperly disbursed $2.1 million and paid $193,000 in liabilities.
As part of the settlement, the law schools agreed to stop disbursing federal aid funds to students in ineligible programs. Additionally, the schools agreed to not seek reimbursement or recoup the amounts paid from students or former students.
Of the law schools, the Brooklyn Law School released a statement that said it has established policies and procedures for its LLM program, which continues to operate in compliance with the law. The statement also claims that the law school is seeking accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for its LLM program.
Additionally, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in a statement said it has implemented rigorous policies and procedures to ensure full compliance with all Title IV requirements.
Advanced legal studies degrees for nonlawyers also need an acquiescence at ABA-accredited law schools and do not have ABA oversight. According to the ABA website, names for such programs may differ by law school.
The website also specifies which law schools offer degrees in advanced legal studies. Of the five law schools that reached settlement agreements with the Education Department, the Albany Law School and the Brooklyn Law School are listed.
A spokesperson for the Albany Law School told the Journal that its advanced legal studies program has Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation. A spokesperson for the Brooklyn Law School told the Journal that its Master of Legal Studies programs have not yet launched or enrolled students and were not an issue with the Education Department inquiry.