Law

55 Concordia Law students plan to attend U of I instead

broberts@idahostatesman.comAugust 21, 2014 

Concordia University School of Law

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Dozens of Concordia University School of Law second- and third-year students are enrolling in the University of Idaho's Boise law program this fall as Concordia wrestles with the American Bar Association recognition.

Fifty-five Concordia students have paid deposits to attend the U of I school at the Idaho Water Center, nearly doubling the university's expected enrollment and causing it to add study tables and more Wi-Fi routers, said Lee Dillion, associate dean of the Boise program.

Twenty third-year Concordia students are taking temporary leave this fall, said Madeline Turnock, an adviser to the Portland-based university's president.

Concordia opened in 2012. Its first class is scheduled to graduate next spring. But the school must have ABA accreditation for its graduates to take the Idaho bar exam, which is required to practice law in the state. Accreditation certifies that the quality of a legal education meets ABA standards.

Neither the school nor the ABA will say exactly what is delaying accreditation. The ABA council that grants it met in early August and decided to delay the process while it gathers more information. Meanwhile, the school continues to share information with the ABA, and a group fact-finder will receive new information the ABA didn't have previously on topics including faculty, students and finances, Turnock said. The fact-finder is expected to visit Boise.

About 30 of the Concordia students who applied to U of I are in their third year of law school. Twenty are transferring into U of I's second-year program, which is starting in Boise this fall, Dillion said.

Until now, U of I had offered only a third-year program in Boise while it continued to operate its full three-year law program in Moscow. Eventually the university plans a three-year program in Boise, too.

Charles Johnson, 29, of Boise, is a Concordia student who is both on leave from the school and planning to attend U of I in Boise this fall.

He said he enrolled in Concordia initially because he could stay in Boise and work while attending school, incurring less debt than he would have by enrolling elsewhere.

Johnson, who is married and has a baby, decided to take a leave because he didn't want to accrue credits at Concordia "in the event they are not worth anything to me later on down the road," he said.

But moving will be costly. The ABA allows U of I to accept only 30 credits from students transferring from an unaccredited law school, so Johnson will become a second-year student again. He estimates that if he stays at U of I, his debt could rise by 30 percent.

Concordia tuition averages $17,000 a year, after discounts. The University of Idaho costs $16,480 for in-state students, according to the law school website.

Johnson said he is not angry with Concordia. "I don't have much in the way of complaints," he said.

Still, he thinks the ABA accreditation process has taken too long. "The bar association doesn't care about the students," he said.

If Concordia gets its accreditation, Johnson said he would consider ending his leave and returning.

The problem is also affecting students who have stayed at the school.

"Obviously, I am a little nervous about the whole situation, but not enough to take a semester off or leave," said Matthew Wolfe, 28, a second-year student who moved to Boise from New Jersey about a year ago. "I took nine credits this summer knowing that things were up in the air. I am still powering through."

Total enrollment at Concordia, including the students on leave, is 125 this fall. Fall enrollment in 2013 was 105. The school reports 50 first-year students, up from 47 in 2013.

Concordia began its quest for accreditation in March 2013, about the earliest it could apply, school officials have said. The Idaho Supreme Court rejected the school's request to let its third-year students take the bar exam if the ABA has not ruled on accreditation by spring.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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