With enthusiasm for law school waning over concerns about high student debt, Drexel University is creating a two-year degree program designed to help new attorneys get into the workforce sooner and start making money.
The accelerated juris doctor degree program at the Earle Mack School of Law will require the same amount of coursework and cost the same as the traditional three-year degree -- about $37,000 tuition per year, plus room and board.
But for certain types of students, like those with work experience or those who know what kind of law they want to study, the “Fast Forward” degree program could give them a head start. To begin with, they'll save a year's worth of living expenses, Drexel law school Dean Roger Dennis said.
“For that student who's really very driven and prepared to be intensely committed for two straight years of education, it's a good option,” Dennis said. “It's not for everybody, that's for sure.”
Dennis said the program being announced Monday is a way to attract a new pool of applicants to a field that has lost its appeal amid dismal employment prospects. Law school grads in 2011 faced the worst job market in more than 15 years, according to the National Association for Law Placement.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of law school applicants nationwide has dropped 17 percent so far this year over last, according to the Newtown, Pa.-based Law School Admissions Council. That's on top of a nearly 14 percent drop from 2011 to 2012, according to council statistics.
A traditional J.D. generally requires six semesters over three academic years, with no class during summers. The faster degree at Drexel entails students taking the same amount of coursework in two years while having the same opportunities for work and extracurricular activities.
The two-year approach is not a new concept, but Dennis said Drexel's program is the first in the region. And while it may not make jobs easier to find, it “significantly reduces the amount of time students spend outside of the workforce, which means less time with limited income,” he said.
Ewurabena Hutchful, 27, entered Northwestern University's accelerated J.D. program in Chicago after working five years on human rights and refugee issues in Liberia, Sierra Leone and her native Ghana.
Hutchful chose the program because she knew what type of law she wanted to study and the timeframe was perfect: Her employer in Accra offered a two-year hiatus, after which she can return to her job. But she cautioned that the fast track “is not for the faint of heart.”
“It's not for people who are on the fence about the law,” said Hutchful, now finishing her first year. “I know in the end I'm going to get a lot out of it.”
Drexel, a private university in Philadelphia, will begin accepting applications in June for enrollment in May 2014. The goal is to maintain the current class size of about 130, with about 25 percent enrolled in the shorter program.
Current third-year Drexel law student Torri Groff expects the school to benefit from the presence of accelerated students, who she said will likely add professional diversity and real-world work perspectives to campus.
“It will help the school, the clubs and the classes have better discussions,” Groff said.