Trustees of the Whittier Law School said on Wednesday that it would close down, making it the first fully accredited law school in the country to shut at a time when many law schools are struggling amid steep declines in enrollment and tuition income.
The trustees of the school, in Costa Mesa, Calif., said in a statement that they had voted not to enroll new first-year students in the fall but were “committed to ensuring that students currently enrolled will have an opportunity to complete their degree in a timely fashion.” The trustees did not set a date for when the school would close.
Marc Stevens, a spokesman for the school, which is affiliated with Whittier College, said that officials were exploring ways to allow nearly 400 current students to complete their education but had not yet arrived at a solution.
Whittier is the first law school fully accredited by the American Bar Association to announce plans to close. Indiana Tech Law School, in Fort Wayne, which had only provisional accreditation from the bar association, has announced that it will close in June.
Other law schools grappling with financial problems have chosen different ways to try to survive. Two law schools in St. Paul, Hamline and William Mitchell, merged in 2015. Charlotte Law School in North Carolina, which the A.B.A. placed on probation in November, has suspended the admission of new students. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, in Lansing, Mich., closed its Ann Arbor campus after enrollment dropped.
At Whittier Law School, which opened in 1966 and was accredited in 1978, minority students, many of whom come from California, made up about two-thirds of the student body. Last July, only 22 percent of the school’s graduates passed the California bar exam, according to state data. The employment rate for long-term jobs requiring a legal degree was 29.7 percent among Whittier graduates, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that compiles data on the 205 law schools in the United States.
Students who graduated from Whittier last year had an average of $179,000 in pre-interest debt, the second-highest total among all law schools in the country, according to Law School Transparency.
The Whittier Law School board formed a subcommittee in 2015 to explore options for the school’s future. As part of its efforts, the panel engaged in conversations “with entities capable of investing in, merging with, or acquiring the law school,” according to the trustees’ statement on Wednesday.
“We believe we have looked at every realistic option to continue a successful law program,” said Alan Lund, the board’s chairman said in the statement. “Unfortunately, these efforts did not lead to a desired outcome.”
The board voted on April 15 not to enroll first-year students in the fall, to find a way for those already enrolled to finish their education and to discontinue the school’s legal education program, he said.