Many first-year students get scholarships to attend the University of Akron School of Law.
Few hold onto them the next year.
According to a recent study, the UA law school tied for last nationally for the rate of scholarship renewals in 2012.
Only 21 percent of students who entered UA’s law school in 2011 kept their full awards the next year, said Jerry Organ, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, who studied the scholarship policies of 140 ABA-accredited law schools nationwide.
“Akron is very generous going in, but very limited in the second year. On the continuum between generous and rigid, UA would be on the rigid end of the spectrum,” Organ said.
Elizabeth Reilly, interim dean of the UA law school, said the university chose this scholarship strategy to help spread its money around and reduce the overall indebtedness of students.
“Instead of supporting a few students all the way through, we try to support about 80 percent of our entering class,” with full or partial scholarships, she said. “We’re trying to support as many students as possible.”
In the second year, UA has required students to earn a 3.3 grade-point average to hold onto a full scholarship. As about 15 percent of the class typically gets a 3.3 GPA or higher, the number of scholarships drop, she said.
In other words, not every student who gets a scholarship in the first year will keep it in the second year.
Reilly said the scholarships and “unusually low” tuition help to enhance access to law school.
Among the five tax-supported public law schools in Ohio, UA’s is in the middle at $23,583 yearly, according to the schools’ websites.
At the same time, average student indebtedness of UA law students totaled $66,283 in 2012, lower than the average student indebtedness in Ohio and nationwide, according to the Law School Transparency website.
Eighty-nine percent of UA law students owed money after graduation, above the national average of 84 percent, but their debt is generally lower than that of students at other schools.
UA is not laying a bait-and-switch trap for unknowing students, as it clearly indicates its scholarship policy in its communications, Organ, the researcher, said.
He called UA’s scholarship model typical for schools nationwide, with about 70 percent following a similar structure, although details of the programs varied widely from school to school. If students don’t read the fine print, they only have themselves to blame, he said.
This fall, UA is lowering the GPA to trigger a full scholarship renewal from 3.3 to 2.9, Reilly said, which should lead to significantly more renewals.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.