The University of Dayton’s School of Law is located in Keller Hall. The school has the lowest bar exam passage rate in the state.
Photo: Max Filby/ STAFF
Photo: Max Filby/ STAFF

UD law school’s bar passage rate among lowest in Ohio

Low bar exam passage among University of Dayton’s law school graduates has officials at the school looking at ways to improve what is the lowest rate among Ohio’s nine law schools.

Fifty-eight percent of UD graduates who took the bar exam in July passed, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. Ohio State University had the highest rate at 87 percent passing.

A Dayton Daily News analysis of a decade’s worth of bar exam data shows UD’s passage rate has declined by 29 percent among all test takers and first-time test takers since 2008 when the school had an 87 percent passage rate. During that time, the bar passage rate among students at Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati have remained nearly the same.

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Law students must pass the bar exam in order to become practicing attorneys.

UD and the University of Toledo had the lowest July bar exam pass rate among its graduates compared to all test takers in Ohio. UD ranked last among its first-time test takers with 63 percent passing.

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Ohio Northern University was the only law school in Ohio where the bar passage rate has changed as much as UD’s over the past decade, dropping 9 points. ONU officials declined to comment for this story.

UD’s passage rate has prompted its law school to roll out new programs and offerings to remain competitive among the state’s nine law schools and another that is considered a competitor for enrollment, Northern Kentucky University.

In the last two years since Andrew Strauss, dean of UD’s law school, arrived at UD, the school has implemented an early alert system to flag troubled students and has changed the structure of its bar exam preparation course. It also now requires students to take the prep-class. The university also recently announced a new five-year program, which shortens by two years the length of time typically required to earn both a bachelor’s degree and law degree.

The goal of the initiatives is to help struggling students while also attracting higher performing law students who want to complete their degrees quickly. Similar measures are already in place at other universities, such as Ohio State which began altering its program in 2012, said Katherine Kelly, director of academic support at OSU’s Mortiz College of Law.

“There has been academic support for some time but you’re seeing more schools bringing in this type of programming,” Kelly said.

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The initiatives at UD are welcome news to second-year law student Jagdeep Sangha of West Chester Twp.

The class of 2019 will be the first crop of UD law students that will graduate with the changes having been in place the entire time they’ve been enrolled and Sangha will be part of that class.

“It does worry me a little bit,” he said of UD’s low bar passage rate. “But, I understand they are taking steps to change it so that means they do care enough to make a difference.”

Enrollment at UD’s law school has decreased in recent years and follows a trend of fewer students enrolling in law schools nationwide . Whittier Law School in California and Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina both recently said they would close while Valparaiso University’s law school in Indiana in November announced it would not admit any new students.

A standard class size in UD’s law school went from around 180 students just under a decade ago to around 90 this year, Strauss said. Nearly every law school in the country has seen enrollment decline dramatically in the last several years, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Though it’s hard to pinpoint one reason for UD’s declines in enrollment, Strauss blamed it on a decrease in the number of jobs available in the legal field caused both by the recession and changes in technology.

Students pay $35,619 in tuition plus additional fees each year to attend UD’s law school. That is the third-highest cost for Ohio law schools; students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland pay $50,666 a year.

Around 83 percent of people enrolled at UD’s law school receive some form of financial assistance from the school and since 2015 several initiatives have been put in place to boost student outcomes, said Andrew Strauss, dean of UD’s law school.

“We work really hard to try to make it affordable to people,” Strauss said. “We understand that (bar passage) is a big issue and we are totally committed to turning this around.”

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