Minorities Under-Represented in Law Schools: Massachusetts Law Dean Says ABA Is to Blame

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Rising law school tuitions are placing legal education out of reach of economically disadvantaged minority students, says a New England law school dean who targets much of the blame at American Bar Association mandates placed on law schools seeking accreditation.

The deans of Oklahoma's three law schools agree that minorities are generally under-represented among their student bodies, but don't agree that the ABA is the problem.

Dean Lawrence Velvel, of the Massachusetts School of Law, said that with some law schools' tuition nearing $40,000 per year, minorities have a long way to go before their representation among the legal profession equals their proportionate share of the population as a whole. Some 90 of the 194 ABA-approved schools charge annual tuition of $25,000 or more, he said.

"The costs of all law schools are high, whether they're state law schools or private law schools," Velvel said.

By costs, he is not referring to tuition, but the schools' own cost per student, which he said averaged about $27,000 two years ago.

"They're high because the ABA imposes on the schools various requirements that are high-cost requirements," Velvel said.

A longtime critic of the ABA, Velvel acknowledged that other issues impact the number of minorities in law schools.

However, he said the law-school accrediting association imposes requirements regarding facilities, law libraries, faculty ratios and other factors that add to law school costs.

"Private schools try to make as much of the costs back as they can by high tuitions," he said.

Most states will only allow students from ABA-approved law schools to sit for their bar exams, he added.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 7.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is African-American, about 8.1 percent Native American and about 6.6 percent Hispanic.

Dean Lawrence Hellman of the Oklahoma City University School of Law said that the number of minority students has not been growing at most American law schools. For one thing, he said, there are an increasing number of law schools to which students can apply, giving them more choice in where to go to school.

"Then, it may be a function of the cost of their options," he said. "Public schools are less expensive than private schools. There may be schools that have more scholarship resources to offer than other schools, which affect the decision of students."

OCU's tuition is $870 per credit hour, which comes to $26,100 for a full year of 30 hours. However, the school's Web site lists annual tuition at $27,200.

For 2006-2007, out of 1,351 applicants to OCU, 4.1 percent were Native American, 6.1 percent African-American, 6.1 percent Asian and 9 percent Hispanic. Like Oklahoma's other law schools, OCU also has other minorities among its applicant pool and student body.

Of 639 admitted to OCU's law school, 4.2 percent were Native American, 4.9 percent Asian, 2.3 percent African-American and 6.6 percent Hispanic. OCU reported 202 students actually matriculating, of which 6.9 percent are Native American, 3 percent Asian, 1.5 percent African-American and 5.5 percent Hispanic.

OCU had a total minority enrollment of 17.8 percent last year and 17.7 percent this year. Thus far, Hellman, said about 17.8 percent of students admitted for next year are minorities.

Asked about the relatively low percentage of African-American students at Oklahoma law schools, Hellman said, "I'm afraid it relates to pipeline issues."

To be able to pursue a professional degree, he said, students must first obtain a college degree and attain the prerequisites for a professional graduate degree such as law.

"It's a very challenging goal," he said.

Hellman said under-representation of minorities in law school has been a concern of the legal profession for some time, and several initiatives have been undertaken to address it. …

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