DALLAS — Students at the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law are getting a half-price education — and that’s by design.
High costs have long kept quality candidates from even applying to law school, said school officials, who hope the lower costs draw more nontraditional students.
In its first year, the legal program is giving students a personalized educational experience for cheaper tuition than most traditional law schools. It’s all part of a vision to expand access to the law at its Main Street campus in downtown Dallas, said Royal Furgeson, the college’s founding dean.
“The people who have not normally been able to get into law school have been people in parts of our middle-class communities and part of our disadvantaged communities,” he said.
The full-time law program at UNT-Dallas costs about $13,040 in annual tuition and fees. The inaugural class got a $1,500 discount. In comparison, SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas costs $48,796 in tuition and fees and the Texas A&M Fort Worth law program costs $33,092.
Admission to the school isn’t focused on stellar statistics, said Valerie James, assistant dean and director of admissions. The median LSAT score in the first year was 147 out of 180 compared with Southern Methodist University’s 162 median score last year.
“Rankings and U.S. News & World Report — that’s not something we’re as concerned about,” James said.
Most law schools are known for having cumulative final exams that make up the majority — and sometimes the entirety — of a student’s grade. But UNT-Dallas is changing that, said Ellen Pryor, the associate dean for academic affairs.
“That’s at the heart of a lot of what is wrong with legal education — it’s the lack of feedback, the one exam,” she said.
Alexandria Perez said she likes the course style at the school. She said she knows where she stands in each of her classes because the grade isn’t just based on a final exam.
“I wouldn’t be able to get that if I were somewhere else,” the 27-year-old student said.
The college has a community participation requirement, offers benchmark quizzes throughout the semester and matches students with mentors. Every UNT-Dallas law student has three to five quizzes, a midterm and a final worth only 45 percent of the final grade in every class.
Many of the shelves at UNT-Dallas’ law library remain empty in an effort to cut costs. The print library collection has a minimal 8,000 volumes, a fraction of the traditional law library size of 100,000 books, school officials said.
Online databases provide students access to secondary sources and other materials they don’t need in print. Instead of crammed bookshelves, the library features sunlit study rooms for collaboration and a bright, corporate feel.
Jacqueline Perez said going to the law school nearly a decade after earning her bachelor’s degree has been difficult but worth the experience. The 32-year-old student said she likes being part of the first law class at UNT-Dallas.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said. “We get to set the standard for the rest of the classes that come in.”