Catching up to the competition

The University of Wyoming College of Law hopes to attract more nonresident students with offers of in-state tuition.

It’s been a loosely-applied policy in recent years to offer a small number of high-performing nonresident students a tuition discount, College of Law Dean Klinton Alexander said during the UW Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 19. Offering in-state tuition rates to nonresident students allows the College of Law to compete with law schools at other nearby institutions, he said.

“Mindful of both the university’s goal to increase enrollment and the state’s goal to diversify its economy and reverse the brain-drain crisis in Wyoming, it’s important to understand the economic stimulus effect and the capturing effect of getting nonresident students to come to Wyoming,” Alexander said.

“(The College of Law) is currently at a huge disadvantage when it comes to student recruitment when compared to our main competitors — that’s Nebraska, Utah, Colorado and Montana. In addition to having brand new facilities, all of these institutions have channeled resources into scholarship funding and other recruitment tools, such as tuition waivers to lure nonresident students to their states — including Wyoming students.”

During the Jan. 19 meeting, the UW Board of Trustees unanimously approved the motion to allow for three tuition waivers each year providing a tuition discount for nonresident students through three years of law school. Though the College of Law was providing 2-3 nonresident students each year with the discount through the past several years, Lisa Nunley, UW College of Law director of admissions and student services, said the trustees’ decision made it official until at least 2020.

“It’s now an official policy, so we’ll have three guaranteed to us each year, where in the past, we had to get permission on several levels,” she said.

UW College of Law tuition rates currently sit at just more than $16,000 each year for in-state students and just more than $32,000 for nonresidents. Though three might seem a small number, Nunley said she thinks it could make a difference in attracting out of state students. In addition to UW having tuition rates that already beat the competition, leading programming such as its Student Legal Clinics and guaranteeing experiential learning credits give the College of Law an edge.

“It really is designed for top students who are out-of-state residents to entice them to come to Wyoming,” she said. “To entice students to come to UW with this tuition waiver, and then being able to guarantee those kinds of programs for them is huge. Especially for their post-law school career, they’ll be able to hit the ground running. It really does prepare them in a lot of ways that some schools just can’t do.”

Schools in competing states such as Nebraska had the foresight to set up scholarship and tuition programs UW needs to catch up with, Nunley said. Even many qualified College of Law applicants are unable to attend because they are unable to pay, she said.

“When you figure $32,000 a year, that’s $96,000 over three years,” Nunley said. “For them to be able to get basically a half-ride scholarship, it’s definitely a huge help. The law school is a three-year program, but it’s after you’ve already done your bachelor’s degree and-or your master’s program. So, depending on how many other years of school you’ve attended and all the debt you’ve acquired in your bachelor’s and-or master’s program, three more years of law school is expensive.”

Many prospective students are concerned they won’t be able to cover the cost of debt after graduating from the College of Law, Nunley said. The 2015 National Association of Law Professionals school report for the UW College of Law found just less than 88 percent of graduates were employed as of February 2014 with an average annual salary around $55,000.

“When your median salary is around $55,000 per year after you’ve graduated — and that’s if you have a job — that’s something a student is looking at: ‘Can I pay my student loan back?’” Nunley said. “So, by cutting their law school tuition in half, it’s huge.”

Eligible applicants for nonresident tuition waivers must have a current LSAT score — the admissions test for law students — at least 15 percent above the median score for the top quartile of admitted students to the College of Law for the immediately preceding school year, and have a GPA of at least 3.5. The waivers are valid for three consecutive years as long as the student meets conditions such as maintaining a 3.0 GPA throughout and remaining a full-time College of Law student.

College of Law students already have completed several years of post-secondary education and are generally older, Nunley said. Many have families and/or are changing careers, which can be a significant motivating factor in making the most of their education, Alexander said. Providing students at this level significant tuition discounts is less a risk than doing so for undergraduate students, Nunley said.

“In professional and master’s program studies, there’s generally more maturity, so the financial risk on our end is less,” she said.

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