Purdue’s online law school achieves California accreditation

Concord Law School at Purdue University Global, the online law school owned by Purdue University, has been fully accredited by the State Bar of California, enabling students to continue their legal studies without having to pass the Golden State’s First Year Law Students’ Exam.

The California Committee of Bar Examiners confirmed it granted accreditation at its meeting Aug. 21 to the law school’s part-time four-year J.D. program. A team from the State Bar of California who inspected Concord in March and recommended accreditation described the law school’s J.D. program as “both quantitatively and qualitatively sound.”

Martin Pritikin, dean of Concord, called the accreditation a “watershed moment” for the institution.

“Being fully accredited provides us additional credibility and recognition,” he said in a statement. “It acknowledges that we can meet all the educational objectives of a regulator. Concord’s mission since its inception over 20 years ago was to make high-quality legal education affordable and accessible by delivering it fully online. I am thrilled that the State Bar of California has recognized that quality.”

Concord is only eligible for accreditation from the State Bar of California, and not the American Bar Association, because the curriculum is completely virtual. The ABA limits the number of hours for online learning and Concord exceeds that cap by having its students attend all classes, meet with professors and participate in school activities online.

In addition, Concord graduates are only eligible to sit for the California Bar Exam. Prior to accreditation, students had to pass a California’s First-Year Law Students’ examination after completing their first year but now most will be able to establish an exemption and forgo the test, according to the committee.

Concord, which touts itself as the nation’s first fully online law school, was founded in 1998 and is headquartered in Los Angeles. The school was acquired by Kaplan University, a for-profit entity owned by Kaplan High Education LLC, in 2007, and became part of Purdue University when the Boilermakers acquired Kaplan in 2018.

Enrollment at the online law school has declined 65% since 2014, according to the report  by the inspection team, but Pritikin expects interest and enrollment in Concord to increase as a result of becoming accredited.

“Having been a tenured professor and administrator at a brick-and-mortar law school, I know that Concord’s program rivals that of most traditional schools,” Pritikin said. “This shouldn’t be surprising; after all, if you can function as a lawyer almost entirely online, why not train to be a lawyer online as well?”

Now as an accredited law school, Concord will have to maintain a minimum cumulative pass rate (MPR) on the bar exam of at least 40%. The report from the inspection team noted Concord’s 2019 MPR was 48.1% and the 2020 MPR was 47.9%. Comparatively, the overall pass rate for California’s July 2019 bar exam was 50.1%.

Concord requires its students to maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 at the end of each term. Students who complete their first semester with a cumulative GPA between 2.00 and 2.49 are allowed to continue on probation. However, students who fail to reach at least 2.5 GPA and pass all their courses at the end of their first year will be dismissed.

According to the inspection team’s report, Concord has “significant attrition with voluntary withdrawals” of up to 45% and involuntary dismissals of up to 35% in the first semester.

Students entering in the fall of 2019 had a median GPA of 3.1, the inspection team reported. The class did not have a median LSAT score because the applicants are not required the take the national admissions test. But they must complete a proprietary online admissions test that assesses reading comprehension and logical analysis.

The inspection team found Concord’s evaluation process for admitting students yields an “applicant pool that appears qualified for law study.”

The composition of the 222 students enrolled in Concord’s J.D. program in 2019 was 44% male and 56% female, according to the inspection team.  White students comprised 40% of those enrolled while African Americans made up 20%, Latinx 12% and Asian or Pacific Islander 6%. Slightly more than 20% of the students declined to identify themselves by race or ethnicity.

Diversity has improved among the faculty, according to the inspection team’s report. The size of the faculty has shrunk 28% since 2014 but now white educators comprise 77%, down from 93%, and male faculty has decreased to 51% from 61%.

Once admitted, students at Concord are required to complete 92 units of academic credit to graduate, according to the report from the inspection team. They must take 84 units of required courses that include all the subjects tested on the California bar as well as a course on the legal profession and courses in legal research, analysis and writing along with a year-long course that integrates bar exam preparation.

Also, upper level students can earn two credits by completing 70 hours of field placement and 20 hours of in-class activities.

Final exams are administered in doctrinal course while final projects are assigned in many performance writing and elective courses. Grades are based on numerous assessments in varying formats and not merely on midterm and final exams as done in more traditional law school programs.

The inspection team found the interim assessments, final exams and assignments to be “well-drafted and a fair test of the legal issues or skills being tested.”

Financially, the inspection team reported that Concord is “almost completely dependent” on tuition for revenue.

Total program tuition is about $47,750 based on the current per credit hour tuition of $519. Total program fees are about $2,500, according to the report.

Although revenues have generally exceeded operating expenses, the school’s operating income has been negative for the past five years due to the school’s allocation of expenses for shared services, the inspection team reported. The school has cut costs since 2016 so operation income deficits have been reduced from 41% to 12 %. Prior to the pandemic, Concord was expecting by fiscal year 2021, enrollment would improve and operating income would be positive.

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