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Penn State offers grants for in-state law students to reverse drop in applications

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — As law school applications drop sharply across the nation, Penn State is slashing tuition almost in half for Pennsylvanians pursuing a law degree.

At the moment, Penn State's law degree programs at its Carlisle and University Park campuses cost the same for in-state and out-of-state students, $41,088 per year.

University officials announced this week that in-state students will receive a $20,000 grant, renewable for three years for a $60,000 total discount as part of its Commonwealth Scholars program. The program will be available to prospective law students enrolling in fall 2014 and after.

“We have a superb academic program with some of the nation's finest classroom teachers,” Interim Dean James Houck said in a news release. “Yet, our research shows that some individuals are unable to take advantage of it because of cost. This program will increase access to legal education for well-qualified Pennsylvania residents who otherwise may not have considered us.”

Law school application and enrollment numbers are decreasing across the nation. According to the American Bar Association, law school applications for fall 2013 dropped 17.9 percent from the previous year. Penn State has seen a steeper decrease in applicants, dropping from 4,848 in 2011 to 1,885 this year.

Penn State Law spokeswoman Ellen Foreman said part of the reason why the university introduced the Commonwealth Scholars program was because Penn State's lack of a discount for in-state students was hindering enrollment.

Foreman said the university for three years surveyed students who were admitted to the school but chose not to attend. The primary reason students identified for not attending was cost.

The tuition decline would put Penn State in competition with other state-related schools in the state. According to the schools, Pitt's law school tuition for in-state students is $29,660, while Temple's is $19,722. With the Commonwealth Scholars program, Penn State's yearly tuition for in-state students would be $21,088.

Penn State was noted as having the highest first-time bar passage rate in the state, based on the July 2013 exam. Penn State continues to seek separate accreditation for its University Park and Carlisle campuses as a way of attracting more students.

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.

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