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NCCU School of Law's accreditation under review by ABA

nccuschooloflaw.png
Photo courtesy of N.C. Central University.

Low test scores and high attrition rates at N.C. Central University's School of Law triggered scrutiny from the American Bar Association.

The school received a public memorandum from the ABA Accreditation Committee on Jan. 4, stating NCCU’s School of Law is out of compliance with ABA standards.

The memorandum cites noncompliance with ABA admissions standards such as academic credentials of admitted students, the academic attrition rate — or the percentage of students leaving the school after their first year, bar passage of graduates and the effectiveness of academic support programs. 

The school has until Feb. 1 to submit a report to the committee, after which the school may be required to attend a hearing before the ABA.

David Frakt, a lawyer and legal education blogger, ranked NCCU’s law school among the bottom 10 law universities in the country in a December blog post. Frakt looked at selectivity of admissions, the entrance credentials of first-year students and high attrition rates. The school's especially high attrition rate stood out to him.

“That 37.7 percent is a really alarming rate of attrition, suggesting that they’re admitting a lot of students who are at very high risk of failure,” Frakt said.

Pamela Glean, associate dean of academics at NCCU's School of Law, said the memorandum did not come as a surprise.

“We had already begun to address our attrition rates, which was the standard the ABA was concerned about,” she said. “So we didn’t want the letter, of course — it was a disappointment, but we understood it.” 

Glean emphasized that the memorandum is not a probation or accreditation letter. 

“It’s like a, ‘Heads up, your attrition rate is too high’ letter,” she said.

Currently, NCCU's School of Law is fully accredited. Frakt said that following this warning, the school may be able to convince the ABA that they are fixing the problem — or that is it minor or short-term — and only face censure and remedial measures.

The more substantial penalty for persistent or significant noncompliance with standards, Frakt said, would be to put the school on probation. Probation puts the school on a specific time limit to get back into compliance before their accreditation is revoked.

Frakt said this kind of letter is not something to be taken lightly. Last year, the Charlotte School of Law closed after receiving a similar letter and subsequent probation from the ABA. 

Glean said NCCU's position differs from that of Charlotte’s.

“They were a for-profit model, and Central just is not a business,” she said. “We run it like a business, but that’s not our motive.” 

Unlike the for-profit model, Glean said the school tries to admit students they feel will succeed and to dismiss under-performing students rather than have them go into debt.

“I think we are different in that key aspect as to why we exist, what we do with our students, and the cost,” Glean said.

Frakt said the threat of probation can put the school into a death spiral, as the letter’s negative publicity would not help with recruitment efforts. 

“Nobody wants to go to a school that’s on probation," he said. "The students that are already there will often try to transfer out, and then it becomes impossible to try to improve the quality of the student body."

According to Glean, the school is changing its admissions policies through more selectivity with LSAT scores and GPAs, as well as working to retain students within the school through increased academic support. 

@EmilyKDavis

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