While turbulent times continue to impact law schools across the country, the University of Minnesota Law School’s outlook may be improving.
After years of University subsidies — which will add up to over $16 million by 2018 — helped ease the school’s financial losses, outgoing Law School Dean David Wippman told the University Board of Regents last week that the school will no longer need to rely on financial boosts from the University to balance its budget by 2020.
The projection of a balanced budget by 2020 depends on several faculty retirements, 2.5 percent annual tuition increases, steady enrollment and a modest rise in faculty salaries and benefits.
“It looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it isn’t that far out,” said Regent David McMillan at a Thursday board meeting. McMillan is also a graduate of the Law School.
The announcement comes as the Law School has seen its yearly number of applicants shrink by almost 50 percent since 2010, while enrollment has declined by one-third.
Fewer than 2,000 students applied to the Law School last year, which is down from 3,865 in 2010. The school enrolled 176 students last year, compared to 260 in 2010.
To help cut down on financial losses, the Law School increased financial aid to attract strong candidates and leaned heavily on University support and private fundraising to bridge budget shortfalls, Wippman said.
“We cut the coffee in the faculty lounge, and I get more complaints about that than all the other faculty cuts combined,” he said at a board meeting Thursday, adding that he expects support staff cuts on top of expected faculty retirements.
The Law School’s ranking has remained consistent, hovering around 20th in the U.S. News and World Report rankings over the past few years, Wippman said.
With fewer applicants, higher-ranked law schools across the country have also been hesitant to enroll more students to make up for financial woes, he said.
During Thursday’s meeting, law student and student representative to the Board Max Hall asked if the University could try to boost its ranking as the market improves.
To do so, Wippman said, the school could slightly lower enrollment to raise admission standards and its ranking, but the school doesn’t currently have the resources.
Wippman said downward enrollment trends influenced the recent merger between Hamline University’s law school and William Mitchell College of Law.
An increase in the number of law program enrollees and law schools in the U.S in the last 50 years produced more lawyers than the job market could handle.
Wippman, who announced his departure to become President of Hamilton College in New York last December, said he was surprised by the challenges the school has faced. He said when he became dean of the Law School in 2008, the job market for law graduates was healthy.
“I thought, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’” he said Thursday. “I don’t ask this question anymore.”
Although Wippman said he’s confident in the school’s budget and market balancing itself out, another recession in the job market for lawyers could disrupt any progress.
Meanwhile, the University has yet to name Wippman’s replacement. He will leave for his new job this summer.