School's Outlook Brighter Law Students Hail Federal Loan Access

Article excerpt

A year ago, law student Scottie Smith wouldn't have considered Florida Coastal School of Law.

At the time, the school had not gained provisional accreditation. Its students had no guarantee they could take the Bar exam on graduation, and no access to federally subsidized student loans.

A year later, the outlook has changed.

The school was awarded provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association last month, an indication of legitimacy that has allowed the young school to tap a greater pool of potential students.

And for the first time, students paying $17,000 to attend full time can expect access to federal loans, no small thing.

Students do not have to repay subsidized loans while they attend school, and their enrollment in an accredited law school allows them to defer repayment of undergraduate loans.

The federal aid is critical to Smith, who left a good job in South Florida and moved with her daughter to Jacksonville to enroll at the law school. Last month, she became one of 150 first-year students entering Florida Coastal.

"I was definitely relying on financial aid," said Smith, 29.

Increasingly, the law school is attracting more full-time than part-time students. Sixty-nine percent of the entering class is full time this fall, compared with 60 percent last year, said Steve Jones, director of admissions.

The school has also continued to strengthen its admissions standards. In 1998, the entering students had an average score of 143 on the Law School Admission Test at the 25th percentile, meaning 25 percent of students scored at that level or lower. The LSAT is scored in a range between 120 and 180.

This year, the average score increased a percentage point at the 25th percentile, an indication that the school is getting more particular, Smith said.

The trend in attracting more full-time students can be partly attributed to the expectation of subsidized federal loans, which allow students to borrow with interest and payments deferred while they are in school.

Until now, the school has had arrangements with several private lenders, but their terms vary. …