The National Jurist - Back to School 2017 - 4
Infilaw's tightrope walk
Two of the company's law schools have been placed on probation and
threatened with losing federal funding. But so far, the for-profit company
has managed to manage through the challenges. By Tyler roBerTs
t's been a brutal year for InfiLaw, the
company that owns three for-profit law schools. Two of the three -
Charlotte School of Law and Arizona
Summit Law School - were placed
on probation by the American Bar
Association (ABA) and Charlotte
School of Law was threatened with losing
federal funding. But so far,
the company has managed
to keep funding. The U.S.
Department of Education
(DOE) announced in August
that it will reinstate School of
Law's ability to award Title IV
funds, effective this semester.
To be sure, it's been a challenging tightrope walk for the
company, and one that is not
over. InfiLaws' three schools
saw their combined enrollment drop from 3,873 six
years ago to 1,748 last year.
That drop forced the school's
to lower admission standards,
which in turn, eventually hurt
bar passage rates. Arizona
Summit reported a 24.6 percent bar passage
rate for the July 2016 Arizona bar exam.
But Charlotte School of Law (CSL)
in North Carolina was the first to be
placed on probation, in October. Then
in December, the DOE announced CSL
would lose federal financial aid after finding
that the school made substantial misrepresentations to students about its compliance
with ABA accreditation standards.
Most observers felt this was a death sentence, as most law students need financial
aid to afford law school. Initially, the ABA
required CSL to create a teach-out plan to
prepare for closure.
But InfiLaw maintained it would take
the necessary steps to stay open, and it
complained that the Obama administration
was unfairly focusing on for-profit schools.
It expressed hope that the Trump adminis-
tration would take a more fair approach.
That appears to be the case, as the DOE
reinstated the funding so long as the school
meets certain criteria.
"We are excited at the prospect of being
able to help our students complete their
legal education," said Paul Meggett, who
took over as interim dean of CSL in June.
But the school is still not out of the woods.
Earlier in the summer the UNC Board of
Governors, which handles state authorization, concluded that CSL is not in compliance with state standards regarding financial
resources, planning or stability. As a condition for state licensure, it required CSL to
submit an ABA-approved plan to improve
the school's performance no later than Aug.
The UNC Board of Governors stated it
was unsure whether the law school's plan
would pass muster.
Margaret Spellings, president of the
University of North Carolina System, questioned whether the school was financially healthy enough to move forward and
whether it could even implement the plan
quickly enough. In a memo, she wrote that
the board was "not optimistic" that CSL
The NaTioNal JurisT
Back to School 2017
would be able to comply.
But CSL has a different take. It saw the
decision as "largely positive."
"While the board found that CSL was
not in compliance with certain financial
requirements contained in the standards,
it also continued our license in force and
allowed additional time for the school to
take measures to strengthen its financial position,"
the school stated in a press
release. "Since that finding,
CSL has taken concrete
steps to reduce its debt and
related obligations, and
provided evidence of those
steps to UNC, to demonstrate CSL's rapid progress
Arizona Summit also
faces challenges. The ABA
placed it on probation in
March after it failed to
meet a number of accreditation standards, and in
May it ordered the school
to post a $1.5 million bond
to reimburse students if the school closes.
The ABA stated that Arizona Summit's
admission practices, academic programming, graduation rates and bar passage rates
have "resulted in the Law School now being
in a position where only immediate and
substantial action can bring about sufficient
change to put the law school on a realistic
path back to being in compliance."
Last year's entering class had a median
LSAT of 143 and GPA of 2.96.
"We are going to make sure that we
are in full compliance with the accreditation standards, while preserving the law
school's original mission of promoting
diversity," said Donald Lively, president of
the Phoenix-based law school. The school
recently announced an affiliation with
Bethune-Cookman University, a historically
black college in Florida.