Recruit & Retain (Capital University)

Thinking Beyond the Undergraduate

Our jobs as enrollment professionals include creating the right environment for students to succeed — in college and in life. The debate over the rising costs of a college education and the resulting level of debt, compared with starting salaries on the other side of a degree, is not a new one. What is changing, however, is how institutions are reacting to those challenges and adjusting their recruitment and retention efforts.

At Capital University, a private undergraduate and graduate institution in Columbus, OH, we have been fortunate to see traditional undergraduate enrollment continue to rise over the past seven years. And while our Capital University Law School welcomed the second-largest class of any law school in Ohio in 2014, it has faced declining numbers in recent years — consistent with a nationwide trend.

We wanted to address that challenge proactively and create new pathways for our students, starting at the undergraduate level, to pursue their education and career aspirations while also addressing their concerns about significant investment of time and money. This was the driving force behind Capital’s launch of a new, accelerated 3+3 Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)/Juris Doctor (J.D.) program, which enables law school hopefuls to earn both undergraduate and law degrees in just six years instead of the standard seven-year timeframe. Capital is the first institution in Ohio to offer this option, and one of roughly 30 nationwide.

Although the offering is just wrapping up its first year of enrollment, we are confident we’re taking the right steps for our students. Here’s a quick look at how and why we did it.

Creating a Consistent Experience

We, like most institutions, care about our graduates’ paths beyond commencement day. Any recruitment strategy should highlight the type of experience a student can have as an undergraduate, and provide guidance on what the student will be prepared to do after those initial four years.

As Capital developed the accelerated program, carrying a consistent experience for students — from undergraduate through law school — was vital. The school’s undergraduate offering is built upon a blend of rigorous liberal arts and professional curriculum, but also ensures that students value vocation and lifelong learning — that they use their knowledge, skills and talent to serve the common good. Likewise, Capital’s law curriculum balances instruction on legal theory with real-world practical training that focuses on professional skills and ethical development. We believe that creating an opportunity for students to build upon that specific undergraduate foundation will create more productive and marketable professionals.

Alleviating Barriers

As mentioned above, conversations about college costs and resulting debt are nothing new. While 99 percent of Capital’s undergraduate students receive scholarships and grants, and the university funds more than $43 million in financial aid annually, we know that cost is still on the minds of students and parents weighing their college paths. And for those considering law school as well, that burden can seem overwhelming.

Giving those students an opportunity to shave a full year off of that journey — completing the 100 credit hours required to earn the B.A. degree in three years, and then moving on to the J.D. curriculum — alleviates some of that burden. Less time means less tuition and the accompanying costs of living, which are often faced without a full-time paycheck. And graduates essentially get a head start on entering the workforce and securing a position that allows them to justify the upfront investment.

Responding to Industry Trends

While Capital’s law school has fared well so far, it’s no secret that law school enrollment is on the decline. In 2014, the American Bar Association reported a decline in law school enrollment for the fourth consecutive year. The last time law school enrollment declined nationwide for four consecutive years was in 1987. At that time, the nation had 29 fewer law schools. First-year enrollment is at its lowest since 1973, when the U.S. had 53 fewer law schools.

While not directly an undergraduate enrollment issue, it is an issue that affects our students. Various factors have threatened the legal industry’s ability to continue to attract and produce passionate and qualified professionals, but programs such as this alleviate some of those challenges and expand access to candidates who might not have considered the career path otherwise. We think this move will help Capital assist an even wider pool of students in achieving their dreams, and in turn supply a changing legal industry with a future workforce that is well-educated, ethical and prepared to navigate change.

For more information about Capital University’s new 3+3 program, visit www.capital.edu/bachelors-to-law.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Amy Adams, Ph.D., is the associate vice president for enrollment services at Capital University.

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