Five-year plan weans law school off state funding

PARTING WAYS: A long-term plan from ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law could make the school financially independent through independent funding and tuition increases, as opposed to funding from ASU, which would be used for other areas. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

In the face of severe budget cuts, ASU is looking to remove all state funding to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law by 2017, replacing the funds with tuition.

The administration calls the change a move toward “self-sustaining” funding, a model that will allow ASU officials to develop plans for the college without worrying about state money.

Law school Dean Paul Schiff Berman said the college currently has the fourth lowest tuition of the country’s top 40 law schools, and as the school moves into the top 30, will have the lowest tuition among its peers.

This difference in cost and quality will allow the school to substantially increase tuition while maintaining and even expanding enrollment, Vice President of Public Affairs Virgil Renzulli said.

“It has been shown at other universities that there are certain very popular graduate and professional programs that can do well, even thrive, charging higher rates,” Renzulli said. “The idea is to move to a tuition level that would be more market-driven than state-subsidized.”

Berman said the transformation would be gradual and involve several changes in order to minimize impact to current students.

“The self-sufficiency plan has us making small increases in tuition and small increases in the size of the class over the next five years, while at the same time ratcheting up financial aid so that we make sure that the school remains affordable,” he said.

Another upcoming change that would help the college grow in size and quality would be moving the college to the Downtown campus, Renzulli said.

Although the proposal to move the college downtown is unrelated to budget cuts, Renzulli said the new facilities would be able to accommodate more students and place them closer to state government buildings, both of which would be beneficial to students.

First-year law student and Graduate and Professional Student Association representative Ed Hermes said he is opposed to the changes for several reasons.

“The opposition from a student standpoint is privatization is a long-term fix to a short-term problem,” he said. “Obviously the law school needs to take its fair share of the cuts, but privatization makes those cuts deeper and permanent. It puts it on the backs of students without any opportunity in the future to get any funding from the state.”

Hermes also said privatization eliminates the vision of the law school’s creators of opening the college to students from all walks of life and students interested in all areas of law.

The current tuition proposal for the college of law for next year would increase tuition for continuing law students by $2,700 —  $1,200 of which would come from an increase for all graduate students, and $1,500 from differential tuition for law students.

Hermes said this plan unfairly places too much of the burden on continuing students.

“That’s more than we can bear as current students. We planned on paying a certain amount of money … and a $2,700 increase is a huge burden to throw on us all the sudden,” he said. “We [think] it would be more equitable to have a higher rate charged for incoming students and not as high of an increase for ongoing students who couldn’t foresee such a large increase.”

Berman said the changes would help students by enabling them to plan ahead in terms of finances.

“Once we attain self-sufficiency, it should make it easier for the law school to plan without having to make as many adjustments based on year-to-year legislative decisions,” he said. “That will benefit students because it will allow the law school to put into motion multi-year … plans.”

However, Hermes said reacting to cuts with privatization is a poor choice because it reinforces the state Legislature’s decisions to cut funding from higher education.

“It sends the wrong message to the Legislature,” he said. “It sends the message that students are the ones who should bear the full and complete burden of education, that the state shouldn’t have any part in that, and when the budget is cut we can just privatize.”

Reach the reporter at keshoult@asu.edu