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Law School Says It Won't Shut Down

LOS ANGELES, CA -- January 27, 2006 (AP) - Despite loss of a second key accreditation, the University of West Los Angeles law school plans to remain open.

The State Bar of California's Committee of Bar Examiners voted Jan. 21 to withdraw its accreditation from the nonprofit university, which operates law and paralegal programs in suburban Woodland Hills and Inglewood.

"We're going to continue and bring the institution within the standards of accreditation," university president Robert W. Brown said. "We don't see this as an adversarial process. We're going to demonstrate the viability of the University of West Los Angeles."

Without California Bar accreditation, students are ineligible to take the State Bar exam.

In November, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges decided to terminate its accreditation of the University of West Los Angeles because of the school's shaky finances. If the school loses its appeal of that termination, it could impact students' ability to qualify for federal financial aid.

Brown said the university's income is now exceeding its expenses for the first time in seven years, mainly because all but one full-time faculty member has been laid off. Adjunct instructors are teaching most classes attended by about 300 law and 70 paralegal students.

Law School Fights for Accreditation

By Lisa M. Sodders, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Daily News
January 17, 2005

The University of West Los Angeles - which has hundreds of law students enrolled at its Woodland Hills and Inglewood campuses - is fighting to retain critical accreditations, even as it struggles to regain its financial footing.

The university has appealed the termination of its accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which could impact students' ability to get federal financial aid. That would further impact the finances of the private, nonprofit university, which has been operating in the red for at least seven years.

And a California Bar Association committee is scheduled this week to review its accreditation of UWLA - an imprimatur that qualifies graduating students to take the state bar exam.

University President Robert W. Brown acknowledged the school is financially fragile but said spring classes have started for the 300 law students and 70 paralegal students, and the university is forging ahead.

"I just would hope that the legal educational community would be open-minded and supportive of UWLA at this time and provide it with an opportunity to honestly demonstrate its ability to continue to pursue its mission," Brown said.

UWLA continues to accept law students but has stopped enrolling new paralegal students as it considers selling that program, Brown said.

UWLA was founded in 1966 and started its paralegal school in 1971. In 2002, it acquired the San Fernando Valley College of Law, founded in Van Nuys in 1962, and moved to Woodland Hills in 1996.

Brown said the university's problems can be traced to an effort to improve the quality by being more selective with admissions. But because it is supported almost entirely by tuition, the transition hurt it financially.

"We knew it would take four or five years to turn the institution around, but unfortunately, the institutional patience wore out," Brown said.

Last summer, faculty members and students openly rebelled, protesting several tuition increases and what they saw as mismanagement.

Ralph Wolff, executive director of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, said the organization terminated the university's accreditation because of concerns over its financial situation and recovery plan.

The university has appealed WASC's termination of its accreditation and has asked for a commission review, Wolff said. That review will be filed Feb. 17, and if the review upholds WASC's original termination, the school can appeal again. The school is considered

accredited during the appeal process.

Wolff noted that even if the school does lose its WASC accreditation, it would not necessarily shut down as long as it was still accredited by the State Bar of California's Committee of Bar Examiners.

But that committee plans to discuss the school during its next meeting Friday and Saturday, said Gayle Murphy, senior executive for admission. Murphy declined to elaborate further on the details of the meeting.

The law school is not accredited by the American Bar Association, although the paralegal program is. Students who graduate from a non-ABA accredited law school are still eligible to sit for the state bar exam.

Despite the lack of the prestigious American Bar Association accreditation, students say the university appeals to those contemplating a career change because they could pursue a law degree part-time while working, unlike most ABA-accredited programs.

Corey M. Criego, 32, of Brentwood now is scrambling to complete his law degree because he's afraid the school will close.

"I'm taking 18 units at three different campuses in order to ensure I graduate," Criego said, noting that two are UWLA campuses and the third is Trinity Law School in Santa Ana. "I'm driving 400 miles a week, just to go to classes, and it's ridiculous."

Second-year law student Kevin Cottrell of Reseda, a third-grade teacher and single mom, said she could transfer to another law school but worries about finding one that will fit her schedule.

"I chose this school because of its location and how I can make it work in my life," said Cottrell, 42, who wants to practice family law. "This was a life dream to do this, and my life dream is crumbling in front of my face.

"Somehow, some way, I'm getting my law degree and I'm going to pass the bar, whether this school closes or not."