Penn State expects a smaller-scale operation for the Dickinson School of Law, but one “equally esteemed and equally vibrant” to the dual campus in State College, Dean Philip McConnaughay said last week.
He called any prediction of an eventual phasing out of the Carlisle campus baseless speculation, adding that such “unsupported, unfounded gossip by people who do not know” only serves to hurt the law school.
Based on what it knows of the typical law student, Penn State predicts more applicants will chose to attend the Lewis Katz building at University Park instead of a renovated and expanded Trickett Hall campus, McConnaughay said.
Penn State expects the numbers to stabilize over the next few years, he added, to 60 to 65 percent of the student body at State College compared to 35 to 40 percent at Carlisle.
That said, McConnaughay made it clear the dual-campus concept is not intended to be a competition between two campuses, but a unified law school with two locations linked together by state-of-the-art technology.
In January 2006, a trustee asked McConnaughay what officials would do if students seem to favor one campus location over the other. At that time, the dean said he hoped to avoid a disproportionate demand at either location.
“My prediction is that our school will be so attractive … that we’ll have ample demand,” McConnaughay told the board of trustees then.
During a phone interview last week, McConnaughay said the number of overall applicants for the 2009-10 academic year is already at 3,500 — an historic high for Dickinson School of Law.
“We’ve experienced a 40 to 50 percent increase in applications this year over last year,” McConnaughay said. “Over the last five years, there has been a 150 percent increase in applications.”
The dual campus is driven by student demand, the dean explained. So far, more applicants have expressed a preference for State College, but should that change, Penn State will adjust accordingly, McConnaughay said.
Dollar figures are an indication of a trend towards State College. In its 2008-09 operating budget, Penn State projected about $9 million in tuition revenue for its University Park law school campus. This is up from about $5.8 million in 2007-08.
Meanwhile, tuition revenue at the Carlisle law school campus went from $13.2 million in 2007-08 to $11.5 million projected for the current fiscal year. Penn State budget figures are available online atwww.psu.edu.
McConnaughay said the changing dollar figures reflect the shift in student body ratio Penn State had anticipated for both locations.
“This is exactly what we expected,” the dean said. “It is a good outcome.”
The association with Penn State’s main campus has increased the ability of Dickinson School of Law to attract more qualified applicants and top-notch, world-renowned professors, he said.
“We are a far stronger law school today than we were years ago,” McConnaughay said. “The Penn State flagship campus at University Park strengthens the programs in Carlisle. It has been very fruitful.”
On Dec. 12, 2008, the American Bar Association fully approved Dickinson School of Law as the only accredited dual campus law school in the United States, McConnaughay said.
The ABA has designated Dickinson School of Law its pilot site for a project assessing how distance learning could be used effectively in legal education, he added. Penn State has installed an advanced telecommunications systems linking students at both campuses.
“Students who attend Dickinson School of Law have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the education we offer on an equal basis regardless of the campus they attend,” McConnaughay said.
McConnaughay explained how the first year is entirely residential, with law students attending one campus or the other. All the instruction is done entirely in person and the focus is on fundamentals of law.
During the second and third years, students are free to transfer between the classes and enroll in classes that originate from either venue, based on where the professor for that course is located, McConnaughay said, adding: “Our Carlisle campus is an exceptionally vital and attractive place.”
Aside from its long-standing legal clinics and proximity to Harrisburg, the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle will play an important role in a new School of International Affairs being established by Penn State, McConnaughay said.
The university is currently in talks with Dickinson College and the U.S. Army War College to share resources and begin offering graduate-level courses in international affairs at the Carlisle campus.
Both alumni and McConnaughay mentioned how the Carlisle law school campus provides students greater access to opportunities in state government agencies than the State College law school campus.