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DOE details Charlotte School of Law’s troubles

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In explaining its decision to boot Charlotte School of Law from the federal student financial aid program, the U.S. Department of Education provided a rare inside look at how the American Bar Association evaluated and ultimately placed the institution on probation.

Charlotte, led by former Valparaiso University Law School dean Jay Conison, was notified Dec. 19 that the education department would no longer allow the school access to funds from Title IV of the 1965 Higher Education Act. The law school has until Jan. 3, 2017, to appeal but beginning Jan. 1, students will not be able to use federal student aid.

According to the federal agency, Charlotte drew a total of $48.5 million in federal money during the 2015-2016 award year, which included $29.4 million in Direct, Graduate PLUS Loans and $19.1 million in Direct Stafford Unsubsidized loans. Also for that same academic year, the law school enrolled 946 students who received Title IV aid.

The decision to stop the money came largely because the law school failed to meet the ABA’s accreditation standards.

“The ABA repeatedly found that the Charlotte School of Law does not prepare students for participation in the legal profession. Yet CSL continuously misrepresented itself to current and prospective students as hitting the mark,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in a press release. “CSL’s actions were misleading and dishonest. We can no longer allow them continued access to federal student aid.”

 Charlotte disputed the Department of Education’s findings.

“We strongly disagree with this determination and are evaluating all available options to challenge the decision, particularly the Department of Education’s mischaracterization of Charlotte Law’s academic accreditation from the American Bar Association and our representation of that status,” the law school said in a statement.

A member of the InfiLaw System, Charlotte Law School received full accreditation from the ABA in 2011 but, according to the Department of Education, the for-profit institution was raising concerns by 2014. The letter the federal agency wrote to inform the law school that it would not be able to participate in federal student financial assistance programs detailed the events that led to the probationary status.

An ABA site team evaluated of the law school in the spring of 2014 then compiled a 72-page inspection report. After reviewing the report and Charlotte’s response in January 2015, the ABA’s Accreditation Committee of the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar concluded it had “reason to believe” the North Carolina school was not meeting the association’s academic standards.

Eleven months later, the accreditation committee issued a second decision, concluding the law school was not in compliance with admission and curriculum standards. The body asked Charlotte to provide additional information including data on how students with low undergraduate grade point averages and LSAT scores had performed in the classroom and on the bar exam.

The law school submitted a 62-page report in Mary 2016 and the following month, Conison and other school officials appeared before the Committee.

In July 2016, the accreditation committee issued a third decision. The ABA group not only reiterated the law school was noncompliant but also characterized the school’s issues of non-compliance as “substantial” and “persistent.” Moreover, it concluded Charlotte’s plans for meeting the standards “have not proven effective or reliable.”

At that point, according to the Department of Education, the ABA required the law school to disclose the committee’s decision to the students and public.

Charlotte chose to appeal parts of the decision to the full council. During an October 2016 hearing with the council, Conison testified the school was “not appealing that conclusion of noncompliance.” Instead the law school asked, in part, that the council overturn the finding that the noncompliance was “substantial and persistent” and that it be excused from publicly disclosing the findings or at least be given one year before making the information public.

On Nov. 14, 2016, the council issued its decision which mirrored the accreditation committee’s determinations. It then ordered remedial actions, including public disclosure, and placed the law school on probation.

The Department of Education faulted Charlotte for not telling students and prospective students of its accreditation troubles. As evidence that the law school knew applicants would rely on the disclosure information, the department pointed to a letter to the ABA in which the institution argued a public disclosure would have a “profound impact on admissions” because it would “effectively tell applicants to beware of attending the Charlotte School of Law.”

In its own letter to the law school, the Department of Education stated its “review established that CSL (Charlotte School of Law) substantially misrepresented to students and prospective students the ‘nature and extent’ of CSL’s accreditation and the ‘appropriateness of its courses and program to the employment objectives that it states its programs are designed to meet.’”     

Consequently, the education department found the school violated Title IV requirements which led the decision to cut federal monies.


 

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