U law school dean is hope­ful

David Wipp­man tells re­gents that en­roll­ment slide, fi­nan­cial trou­bles may be com­ing to an end.

Star Tribune - - Front Page - By MILA KOUMPILOVA mila.koumpilova@star­tri­bune.com

He said fi­nan­cial trou­bles, en­roll­ment slide may be com­ing to end.

The Univer­sity of Min­nesota has seen the worst of hard times that hit the na­tion’s law schools — and things should start look­ing up.

That was the pre­dic­tion of the Law School’s out­go­ing dean in a Thurs­day pre­sen­ta­tion to U re­gents chock-full of sober­ing sta­tis­tics and a dash of hope­ful news.

The Law School, which has seen its ap­pli­cant pool shrink by al­most half and its en­roll­ment dip by a third since 2010, has a plan to pull through, lead­ers said.

“It looks like there’s light at the end of the tun­nel, and it isn’t that far out,” said David McMil­lan, the Board of Re­gents’ vice chair and a grad­u­ate of the Law School.

Dean David Wipp­man said he ex­pects that by 2020, the Law School can end its re­liance on year-end fi­nan­cial in­jec­tions from the univer­sity to bal­ance its bud­get, which have to­taled about $16 mil­lion since 2012.

The mea­sures the Law School has been tak­ing likely will con­tinue to sting, though: The fac­ulty will keep shrink­ing by at­tri­tion, and the school will

stick with aus­ter­ity mea­sures, from sup­port-staff cuts to the end of free coffee in the fac­ulty lounge.

Wipp­man re­called a sense of op­ti­mism as he started the job eight years ago amid ro­bust en­roll­ment and a seem­ingly thriv­ing econ­omy.

“I thought, ‘What could pos­si­bly go wrong?’ ” he told the re­gents. “I don’t ask this ques­tion any­more.”

The glut of new at­tor­neys pro­duced by a grow­ing num­ber of law schools na­tion­ally has caught up with higher education in­sti­tu­tions in re­cent decades. Ap­pli­ca­tions to law schools na­tion­wide have plum­meted by some 40 per­cent in the past 10 years.

The trend af­fected the Great Lakes re­gion par­tic­u­larly hard, with Min­nesota re­port­ing the sharpest drop in tak­ers of the LSAT law school en­trance exam.

In a sur­prise move last year, two of Min­nesota’s four law schools — Ham­line and Wil­liam Mitchell — merged af­ter four decades of ri­valry.

Just un­der 2,000 peo­ple ap­plied to the U’s law school The Univer­sity of Min­nesota Law School has been hit hard by a na­tional de­cline in law school ap­pli­cants in re­cent years. The school has re­duced its en­roll­ment in re­sponse rather than lower its ad­mis­sion stan­dards and risk a dip in its na­tional rank­ing. last year, down from 3,860 five years ear­lier. The school en­rolled 176 stu­dents, com­pared with 260 in 2010.

“What has this meant for our bud­get?” asked Wipp­man. “Well, it’s meant a lot of pain.”

The Law School re­lies on tu­ition for about 60 per­cent of its rev­enue.

In a “dou­ble bind,” the school also had to step up fi­nan­cial aid to con­tinue at­tract­ing strong can­di­dates dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion, Wipp­man said.

As a re­sult, the Law School has leaned more heav­ily on pri­vate fundrais­ing and univer­sity sup­port to ad­dress its bud­get gap. It has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to boost en­roll­ment, which would bring on less-stel­lar stu­dent classes and a dam­ag­ing dip in rank­ings. The Law School is tied for 20th place na­tion­ally in the U.S. News & World Re­port rank­ings.

“The bal­ance of qual­ity and ap­pli­ca­tions is key, and we’ve made a de­ci­sion to main­tain qual­ity,” said U Pres­i­dent Eric Kaler.

In­stead, the Law School made al­most $2 mil­lion in cuts last fis­cal year, with an­other $800,000 so far this year.

There are hope­ful signs, Wipp­man said. Ex­perts be­lieve the sup­ply of new at­tor­neys is fi­nally com­ing into line with mar­ket de­mand. As word gets out, he said, law schools might see a lon­gawaited uptick in ap­pli­cants.

His pro­jec­tion of a bal­anced bud­get by the 2019-20 aca­demic year as­sumes a hand­ful of fac­ulty re­tire­ments, an­nual tu­ition in­creases of 2.5 per­cent, sta­ble en­roll­ment, and a mod­est rise in fac­ulty salaries and ben­e­fits.

Mean­while, a search is un­der­way to re­place Wipp­man, who will leave for the top job at a New York col­lege in the sum­mer.

Max Hall, a stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the board who at­tends the Law School, won­dered if the U can use the mo­ment as an op­por­tu­nity to boost its rank­ing.

Wipp­man said the school could strate­gi­cally shrink en­roll­ment slightly to trig­ger a “vir­tu­ous up­ward spiral” of higher ad­mis­sion stan­dards, a higher rank­ing and higher ap­pli­ca­tion num­bers.

“But we don’t have the re­sources,” Wipp­man said.

Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781

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