Vermont’s Only Law School Starts a New Chapter
In 2010, Vermont Law School welcomed a matriculating class of 212 first-year law students.
By 2013, that number dropped to 129.
Like many law schools around the country, Vermont Law has taken the brunt of enrollment declines and faltering finances. But now, the law school is finally beginning a new chapter.
Inside Higher Ed recently took a closer look at how the law school is hoping to rebound and why the only college in Vermont to offer a J.D. is now betting big on master’s degree programs.
“Vermont Law School has doled out juris doctor degrees to students from across New England and beyond since 1972,” Liam Knox, of Inside Higher Ed, says. “Many came to the sleepy village in central Vermont because of the college’s sharp focus on environmental law and policy, as well as its progressive outlook on justice. But like many small institutions around the country, in recent years VLS has suffered from declining enrollment, shifting regional demographics and wobbly finances.”
Back in June, Vermont Law officials announced a restructuring plan that adds three new master’s programs, as well as a new name: Vermont Graduate School. It’s a rebrand that school officials hope will better represent the diverse educational offerings the institution is now providing. The restructuring of offerings places equal focus on the law school’s non-JD programs—a push that experts say is innovative.
“There’s a real richness in trying to attack these issues from both traditional legal perspectives and public policy perspectives,” says Rodney Smolla, a veteran lawyer who took as Vermont Law in July, in Inside Higher Ed. “You could offer a lot more in terms of educational opportunities if you invested as much or nearly as much on the public policy side as you do on the traditional law side.”
SMALL COLLEGE, BIG AMBITIONS
The newly-rebranded Vermont Law and Graduate School (VLGS) has made some big moves for a small institution. But some experts say it might not be enough.
“VLGS should be commended for trying to innovate, and I think what they did and silo-busting, moving more programs online, and staying close to their mission is smart,” says Karen Gross, who served as the president of the Bennington-based Southern Vermont College from 2006 to 2014, in Inside Higher Ed. “But I wonder if this is too little, too late.”
Still, VLGS officials are confident and optimistic in the school’s new path forward. One thing that VLGS has to its advantage? It’s Vermont’s only law school.
“People care about it, the government cares about it, our senators care. Because it’s so important to the state,” says Smolla. “That’s an advantage that we have that you wouldn’t necessarily see in a small liberal arts college in the middle of the Midwest with many other competing schools.”
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