Penn State moves to consolidate its two law schools

Oct 22, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; The Penn State Nittany Lion cheerleaders entertain the crown prior to the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
  • Combining the schools is expected to save money
  • The reunified school would be based at Penn State Dickinson Law

Nov 30 - Penn State University will seek to reunify its two separately accredited and operated law schools, officials said this week.

University president Neeli Bendapudi said uniting Carlisle-based Penn State Dickinson Law and Penn State Law at University Park, which is at the university's main campus in State College, Pennsylvania, will strengthen their offerings, better compete with other area law schools and save money.

Bendapudi will convene a panel to study consolidating the two schools, which are about two hours apart.

“With an extremely competitive marketplace for legal education and nine law schools in Pennsylvania, the University’s current two-law-school model is not the best approach for achieving excellence in legal education,” the university said in a statement.

Rutgers and Widener are the only other universities with two law schools. Rutgers’ New Jersey law campuses in Newark and Camden are jointly operated and accredited, while Widener’s schools in Wilmington, Delaware, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, have separate leadership and accreditation.

Penn State would continue to operate in both locations while current students and those beginning their studies next fall complete their degrees. The consolidated school would be overseen by current Dickinson dean Danielle Conway. Dickinson Law is the smaller of the two schools, with about 282 students. University Park has 563 students. The university did not specify how many students would be at the combined campus.

The law schools are centrally funded by the university at an annual combined cost of approximately $17 million. It’s too soon to know how much money consolidating the schools will save, a university spokesman said Wednesday. Penn State is currently facing a budget deficit of $149 million.

Penn State acquired Dickinson Law in 1997 and opened the University Park campus in 2006. The two campuses operated as one until 2014, when officials decided to split them up and seek ABA accreditation individually.

The reunification panel, chaired by Conway, is expected to issue final recommendations during the spring semester. The university’s board of trustees must approve any changes before they take effect, the university said.

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Reporting by Karen Sloan

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com