Earlier this year, the North Carolina Central University School of Law, responding to American Bar Association concerns regarding the school’s academic attrition and low bar passage, said that it was going to raise its own standards.
The changes made by the Durham institution since then have paid off, as the ABA announced recently that after a June meeting with school officials, NCCU “remains an approved law school.”
In a July 23 letter, interim dean Elaine O’Neal informed alumni, faculty, staff, and students of the ABA’s decision.
“NCCU School of Law thanks each of you for your untiring advocacy and support of our institution and its rich legacy,” she wrote.
In a January letter, the ABA informed the school that it had concluded that NCCU was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which requires a school to admit only those applicants who appear capable of graduating and being admitted to the bar, and Interpretation 501-1, which addresses students’ credentials, attrition rates, bar passage rates, and the effectiveness of a school’s academic support program.
The school’s first-year attrition rate reached more than 37 percent and its graduates have struggled to pass the bar exam.
In a February letter, NCCU’s chancellor, Dr. Johnson Akinleye, said that the school would decrease its first-year enrollments and increase its LSAT requirements. No student scoring below 142 would be admitted. Those scoring a 145 or lower would undergo a committee review before being admitted, he said.
Akinleye had hoped that the school’s response to the ABA, which included additional measures, would demonstrate compliance and that the ABA would cancel the scheduled June meeting.
That response was not the “end of the conversation” Akinleye hoped for, as the ABA in March found the school still out of compliance.
The ABA seems pleased, however, with the strides NCCU has made during the last four months. Akinleye and O’Neal met with ABA officials June 28-30 in Portland, Oregon, where they acknowledged the concern raised by recent academic dismissal rates, but offered that with the help of consultants, the school had adopted “an evidence-based approach” to dealing with the issues. Based on the analysis of 10 years of data, NCCU has revised its admissions process by implementing an increased presumptive admission index (which is calculated by multiplying an applicant’s undergraduate GPA by 20, and then adding their LSAT score) and a heightened review for applicants with scores near that index.
According to the ABA’s letter, NCCU has also expanded its admissions team by including a director of admissions and has “modified its academic support programs by establishing early alerts, a more individualized student success plan, and increased in-class assessments.”
Numerically and on the front end, NCCU’s fall class of 2018 already looks more promising.
Last year’s first-year students who scored between 136 and 142 on the LSAT earned first-semester grades from 1.44 to 2.91. Grades for those students scoring between 150 and 171 on the LSAT ranged from 2.15 to 3.35.
This year, the school anticipates that incoming first-year students will feature 75th/50th/25th LSAT and undergraduate GPA percentiles of 150/148/144 and 3.5/3.27/3.07, respectively.
While NCCU remains accredited, the ABA still plans on keeping an eye on things. To assess the impact of the school’s new admission requirements, the Accreditation Committee has requested that school officials submit by Oct. 15 a report providing information on the class size and whether the 75th/50th/25th percentiles have panned out as predicted.
The committee has also directed that a fact-finder visit the law school this fall to assist the committee in evaluating the effectiveness of the new changes, specifically as it relates to attrition rates and bar passage outcomes.
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @NCLWHamacher