The last thing Pennsylvania needs is another law school.
At least that's the consensus of law school deans around the state anyway.
When was the last time you heard anyone say there aren't enough lawyers around, asked Peter Shane, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
The number of students applying to law schools nationwide also has fallen precipitously over the last five years, according to John T. Rago, assistant dean of Duquesne University School of Law.
Given both factors, Pennsylvania State University made a wise choice in proposing to take over an existing law school rather than trying to start a new one, the deans said.
And the obvious choice was Dickinson School of Law, the only law school in the state not already part of a larger university.
The Penn State Board of Trustees made the move official yesterday, voting unanimously to approve the merger. The university will begin the process of taking over the law school on July 1, and the merger is expected to be complete in three years.
In confirming the proposed merger earlier this week, Penn State President Graham Spanier called a law school the university's lone ?missing link?? in its academic programming.
?I think this is a very beneficial move for Penn State,?? said Loren D. Prescott, associate dean for administration and faculty affairs at Widener University's School of Law and the chief administrator at the law school's Harrisburg Campus. ?They are now a complete, comprehensive institution. All of us in the legal profession can be enthusiastic about the decision because it makes legal education and the profession better.??
Rago said both schools will benefit.
?Dickinson is a fine law school. It has a fine tradition. I'm sure they made the decision because they believe it will make them stronger,?? he said. ?Penn State also made the right decision. Given the trends I don't think a new law school would have been good for legal education, but this is.??
Law schools in general could be entering a difficult time.
Applications to law schools nationwide have fallen from about 99,000 in 1991 to 75,000 for the current school year, according to Rago. A recent survey of college freshmen indicated that their interest in going to law school is at an all-time low.
Still, the number of applicants seeking admission each year still outnumbers the available slots. For example, Dickinson last year received about 1,300 applications and admitted fewer than 200.
None of the other law school deans appeared concerned that Dickinson will gain an edge in attracting potential students because of the attachment of the Penn State name.
?Penn State is a fine institution,?? said Robert Bartow, acting dean of Temple University's School of Law. ?It has a nationwide, and a worldwide reputation. My own guess, though, is this will not have a negative impact on the other law schools.??
Each school has its own specialty, which helps attract a solid core of applicants each year. Students interested in going to school in an urban setting also likely will still apply primarily to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh area schools.
What could help make Dickinson more attractive would be if its tuition comes down because of its affiliation with Penn State, a state-related university.
?Economics is becoming more and more of a factor in students' decisions,?? Prescott said. ?If there were a state subsidy for law tuition [at Dickinson] like there is at Temple and Pitt, it would make a big difference.??
Widener and Dickinson currently charge about the same rate of tuition Dickinson's tuition is $14,500 while Temple charges $8,182 and Pitt's tuition is $10,962.
That isn't like to change, at least for now. Spanier said Penn State will not immediately seek any additional funding from the state to help support the law school.