Hybrid learning is nothing new in higher education. Every week, there is seemingly a new online business school program coming out. Last week, the University of Southern California and American University introduced new online programs. What’s more, it’s not just lower-tiered schools starting these programs. Top schools such as University of North Carolina and Indiana University, for example, offer online MBA degrees.
Finally, law schools might be making that same leap. The American Bar Association has officially approved a hybrid learning program at the William Mitchell College of Law—the first of its kind to be ABA accredited. Interestingly, William Mitchell was also part of the first law school merger with Hamline University School of Law. It’s an unprecedented move and one that could be a glimpse into the future of legal education.
The program is set up so every class half online and half in person. Prof. Greg Duhl, the program’s director, told CNBC that the program is the result of an effort to look at “new avenues to attract students.” Online programs could be a way for law schools to break into a new market of students. Instead of attracting students who have recently finished undergrad, it might instead appeal to individuals who already have established careers and families.
Online MBA programs tend to attract older students who don’t want to quit their jobs. Duhl says the program, which began in January of this year, largely has “doctors, police officers, nurses, social workers and professors—people who have very good jobs but they want to go to law school.”
Tuition is still $27,700 a year, which is the same as the traditional program. It’s hard to imagine much savings, but the flexibility of the program seems to allow for students to continue to work their full-time jobs while completing the degree. Additionally, if students have been working in a career for five to 10 years before beginning the program, they likely have the ability to avoid huge student loans and consequently, piles of debt. Although, they also are likely to have more financial responsibilities such as mortgages and children.
Alan Feller, managing partner at New York-based law firm, Sloan and Feller, told CNBC that students graduating from these types of programs and with lower debt could actually be more attractive to firms because they might be less likely to need high paying jobs quickly. In other words, law firms could hire them for less and keep them at a lower salary for longer.
It will be interesting to see where graduates of this program go to work in a few years and how they fare on the bar. That could influence other schools to introduce their own hybrid or fully online programs.
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