LANSING, Mich. — Cooley Law School was once one of the largest law schools in the country. Now its enrollment is down significantly.
“Cooley is celebrating its 50th year this year," said President James McGrath. "It's been around for a long time. It's a school that has met students where they are.”
McGrath said the goal of the school has always been to provide access to law school education to everyone.
“We have a lot of second career people, single moms and dads, people who are geographically back to where they're living and want to go to law school, but really need flexible scheduling,” McGrath said.
They're still doing that, just with fewer campuses.
“We had previously, before I arrived, five campuses," McGrath said. "When I arrived, we had four.”
And fewer students.
“We're currently under 500 students, and we want to be closer to 800 students in the future,” McGrath said.
The law school is now down to two campuses, one near Tampa in Florida and one in downtown Lansing. The 500 students are split between the two.
Cooley saw its peak enrollment in 2010 with over 3,900 students.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to go to law school in those areas that could not move to another place for law school, and good jobs that families, they took care of one reason or another." McGrath said. "They wanted to go to school, where they were.”
Since then, it's been a steady decline.
Cooley was always one of the least selective law schools in the country and after enrollments across the country fell in the wake of the 2008 recession, it found itself competing for students that other law schools might not have considered in the past.
A partnership with Western Michigan University didn't work out.
And Cooley's numbers dropped precipitously during the COVID-19 pandemic, though McGrath said they aren't sure if that was because of the pandemic.
“We were competing for students with a lot of other schools," McGrath said. "So we didn't see a jump in numbers. Other things with COVID, people didn't put off coming to law school. It's hard to quantify the effects of COVID, because it affected different schools differently.”
McGrath said low enrollment has its perks.
“We have kind of a model that we want to, you know, to have appropriate staffing and faculty levels," McGrath said. "Right now we have a really good faculty to student ratio, but it doesn't have to be that good.”
But it can't stay this low forever.
“We'd like to get some more students in but we're also very pragmatic as well," McGrath said. "We're looking to see if there are schools that are smaller than us. So we're looking to see if there are ways that we can operate more efficiently with fewer students.”
McGrath said they're already seeing deposits for the fall and is hopeful enrollment numbers will even out in the next few years.
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