Earlier this year, it appeared as though the Charlotte School of Law would have to close its doors. The for-profit school, which had long suffered from poor bar-passage rates and long-term employment figures, was placed on probation last November by its accreditor. A month later, the U.S. Education Department announced that it would be refusing the school’s access to federal loan money, likely spelling the end for an institution heavily reliant on this source of revenue. Its dean quickly resigned, as did the interim dean who replaced him shortly after that. Enrollment dwindled to some 100 students.
Charlotte Law’s apparent downfall reflected broader trends in the legal-education marketplace. Enrollment in Juris Doctor programs dipped to 110,951 students in the 2016-17 academic year, down from 147,525 students in 2010—a decline that has cost schools approximately $1 billion in tuition. The situation is particularly acute at non-elite law schools. Plummeting enrollments are forcing Indiana Tech Law School and Whittier Law School, both of them nonprofits, to close their doors, for example.
For Charlotte Law, efforts during the early months of 2017 to regain access to federal loan monies had proven unsuccessful. According to The Charlotte Observer, the resignations of both the dean and interim dean were motivated in part by their inability to convince the Education Department to release loans to cover students’ education expenses. “If I felt I could effect anything positive for the school at this point,” the interim dean, the former federal prosecutor and faculty member Scott Broyles, told the newspaper in April, “I would not have resigned.”
Yet Charlotte Law, which is part of the for-profit InfiLaw consortium, had reason to be optimistic. Indeed, Lewis Wasserman, an associate professor in the University of Texas at Arlington’s department of educational leadership and policy studies, in January offered one possibility for the school’s recovery: “About the only way the school could extricate itself from this situation is if Trump’s incoming Department of Education leadership takes a different view of this situation than Obama’s had,” he told me then. “It’s possible a Republican administration would look more kindly on a for-profit operation like InfiLaw.”
Perceived as having profited off vulnerable students during the Great Recession, for-profit universities received harsh criticism from…