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Friday, July 18, 2008

Western State law school sold

What will the new ownership bring?

By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register

FULLERTON Orange County's first law school, which educated an entire generation of local lawyers and judges since it was founded in 1966, has been sold to an education company based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Notices went up around campus Wednesday that Fullerton's Western State University College of Law has been sold to Knowledge Investment Partners LP, which owns seven universities and educational entities, mostly in Europe.

The deal was estimated valued between $5 million and $10 million, according to SEC documents filed July 16 by Education Management LLC, the parent company of the for-profit law school.

"I'm feeling very positive about this," said WSU Dean Maryann Jones, who's retiring this year. "They found a good home for us."

The new owner has a mailing address in Beachwood, Ohio. Jones said the managing partner is based in Geneva. 

The Fullerton law school no longer fits in with the corporate mission of its parent company, Jones said.

It is owned by the Argosy Education Group, Inc., which runs Argosy University and purchased the law school in 2000. In turn, that company is owned by Education Management Corporation, one of the world's largest providers of for-profit education.

Over the last two decades, several new ABA-accredited law schools have joined Western State in providing legal education here.

Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Chapman School of Law and now the new as-yet-unopened UCI Law School will all be training lawyers in Orange County.

Western State has faced accreditation problems with the American Bar Association, largely over the low percentage of students who pass the state bar examination.

Campus officials say bar pass rates are lower than other schools because of the large number of first-generation and minority students they admit.

WSU even sued the ABA over its decision not to grant full accreditation. The lawsuit was settled, and in 2005, the bar association again gave the college provisional accreditation.

The law school has two years to win full approval. 

The sale must be approved by accrediting agencies, including the ABA and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Jones said the new owners have colleges in Paris, London and Madrid, among other cities. She also said she expects to soon be able to release news about a new dean to replace her.

"I think people are feeling good about this," Jones said, "though it's bittersweet because Education Management has been good to us."