Pitt among schools increasing scholarship funds for law students

William M. Carter Jr., Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, lectures during a civil procedure class in Oakland on Jan. 30, 2014.
William M. Carter Jr., Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, lectures during a civil procedure class in Oakland on Jan. 30, 2014.
Photo by Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Law is offering a new round of scholarships in the increasingly intense national competition to snare top students from a shrinking pool of applicants.

The three-year scholarships range from $10,000 a year to full tuition — currently $29,660 for Pennsylvania residents and $36,864 for out-of-state students — for top students who apply by Feb. 15. The announcement follows similar moves by other Pennsylvania law schools.

“We're looking to maintain and increase the quality of our incoming class,” said William M. Carter, Jr., dean of the Pitt law school.

The new round of law school scholarships comes as law schools across the country face steep declines in the pool of applicants and compete for top students to boost their standing in national rankings, such as the one conducted annually by U.S. News & World Report.

Villanova in Eastern Pennsylvania announced last week that it will double the number of full-tuition scholarships for top students to 50 next year. Penn State's Dickinson School of Law will give Pennsylvania residents a 50 percent break on tuition. And Duquesne, which increased the amount offered in scholarships by about 25 percent last year, is looking at a similar increase this fall.

According to the national Law School Admission Council, law school applications, which peaked at 98,700 in 2003, declined to 59,400 last fall. Council spokeswoman Wendy Margolis said early numbers for this year show law school applications nationwide down 12.6 percent from the same period last year.

The decline is occurring as many law schools reduce and cap the size of incoming classes. New law school graduates face a weak job market and what many see as a glut of lawyers. In Allegheny County, the number of lawyers increased 20 percent during the past decade, from about 7,200 to about 8,700 last year, said Allegheny County Bar Association spokesman Tom Loftus.

Many law schools that sent information to Pitt senior Carolyn Boucek, 21, emphasized their scholarship offers. Boucek, who opted to accept early admission to Cornell's law school, said it was a great year to be an applicant.

Although the Upper St. Clair woman hasn't learned what, if any, aid she will receive from Cornell, she was surprised by the number of schools that sent her recruitment fliers trumpeting new scholarships.

“Obviously that's what happens when the market is squeezed,” Margolis said. “We believe scholarships should be assessed on need, but each school is going to do what it needs to do.”

Charmaine McCall, assistant dean of admissions at Pitt's law school, said about 50 percent of its students received merit scholarships.

“We are expecting an increase. We'd love to have it at 75 percent, but it depends on who applies,” McCall said. Students who receive the new scholarships must maintain a 3.0 grade average to keep them.

Duquesne's law school reduced and capped its class size and began increasing scholarship aid about three years ago to maintain standards, said law school Dean Ken Gormley. He said about 70 percent of Duquesne law students receive scholarships. Those who do get three-year commitments.

Like Pitt's Carter, Gormley said maintaining standards and delivering skilled graduates is key.

“It should not be a battle of PR departments. It should not be a bidding war. We are supposed to be training young men and women to serve others in the practice of the law,” Gormley said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media.

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