Monday, September 6, 2010

How Big is "Too Big"?

Cross-posted on GMUSL student publication, The Docket.

As I sat in a morning class of Federal Income Tax on my first day as a 2L, there was something particularly wonderful about the experience—there were only about twenty students around me. Looking forward to the joys of small class sizes to come, I suddenly wondered how the incoming class of around 300 1Ls would affect my GMUSL experience (Not to say all you 1Ls aren’t lovely. Shout out to my mentees). Even worse, if 1L classes keep getting bigger, tuition keeps rising, and SBA is not receiving increased funding, what exactly am I paying for?

After hearing about my concerns, Deans Polsby, Huber, and Kelsey were all kind enough to sit down with me and answer my questions. First, although the 1L class is unexpectedly large, our overall student body population is about 29 over the target 720-50. In 2007, GMUSL had an entering class of 267;[1] in 2008, the class size went down to 160;[2] in 2009, the number went back up to 247.[3] Although the new 1L class is bigger than usual, the difference makes up for smaller classes in the past.

Notwithstanding the extra bodies on campus, the 1L day sections are still sized appropriately because a chunk of the extra students are in the evening section. Also, the deans haven’t forgotten that our professor-to-student ratio affects our ranking. Dean Polsby is in conversations with the provost to get additional teaching help in the spring when it’s needed.

Next we moved onto tuition. If the 1Ls didn’t need an extra section, where is the extra money going? Turns out, GMUSL is responsible for only a small percentage of our tuition and a surcharge. Although the law school can increase the surcharge every year, it has only done so twice in GMUSL’s history. The rest of our tuition is in the hands of the Board of Visitors, and the law school is not at the table for tuition discussions. It was speculated that since tuition increases have less of an impact on cheaper undergraduate tuition and the law school is only about 3% of the total university, the Board doesn’t think it’s such a big deal. But it is, and Dean Polsby agrees. GMUSL attracts students because of our location, reputation, and price. Our 1L numbers demonstrate loud and clear that GMUSL has got the goods. Annual tuition increases are not sustainable, and the law school will lose its competitive edge if the trend continues. Dean Polsby believes our tuition should be as cheap as possible, consistent with other objectives. He along with other alumni are pushing to end the blind increases to our tuition, particularly in light of a 12% increase predicted for next year.

Aside from controlling the bulk of what we pay for school, the University also controls our SBA funding—not the law school (GMUSL does supplement certain academic activities like moot court). Although SBA funding has remained at about $200,000 throughout the years—even with a total student population bigger than what we have now—Dean Polsby will endorse any SBA request for increased funding.

And finally, the biggest question: how are we all going to get along on our small campus? For starters, the new building is scheduled to open in January 2011. Once the temporary wall in the atrium goes down, a lounge will open up into a new eatery. Law students will also have access to all lounge space in the new building, and we’re currently slated to get most of the 4th floor (this is subject to change). If you ride your bike to school, then you’re in luck; the basement bathrooms will have showers. What’s more, the cafĂ© downstairs will soon be vacated and turned into student space.

As for next year, Dean Polsby explained that getting back on enrollment target is a high priority. The school relies on a complex formula that is modified annually to guide the law school’s acceptance numbers. Since the University gives tuition back to the law school based on the enrollment target, as opposed to the actual numbers, GMUSL has to fight for every extra dollar—an incentive not to over-admit.

Until the new building opens, things might seem a little tighter on campus, especially in the library. So far it looks like we have come together to deal with it. Take the lockers, for example. While I am just as guilty as the next person for panicking in the face of a locker shortage, enough students made arrangements to share before they went on sale that we even had some leftover. SBA is also looking into temporary lockers if need be. In the meantime, looks like we’ll all make some new friends.




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