The tottering Charlotte School of Law reopened Monday – with a third of its normal teachers, a shrunken list of classes and far fewer students.
Students reported attendance at the day’s classes far below normal, especially in the first- and second-year classes which have been hit hardest by transfers. The for-profit school had about 700 students enrolled for the fall semester.
School leaders said Monday that they will not have final enrollment figures for up to a week. The school has committed to remain open at least through May.
Andrew Gordon, a graduate now studying to take the bar examination in February, said he was at the school offices Monday afternoon for a bar review class, then went to the eighth-floor student commons. He said he saw about five students total. “Normally there would be quite a few students on the 8th floor ... for lunch or walking the halls,” he said.
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Last week, the school laid off about two-thirds of its faculty and released a stripped down class schedule to reflect the expected loss of students. Students began transferring out after the school was put on probation by the American Bar Association in November and then, in December, cut off from a federal student-loan program that awarded the school’s students almost $50 million last year.
Both the bar and the U.S. Department of Education have cited the school for chronic failings with admission, curriculum and bar exam passing rates. They also accused school leaders of trying to hide the problems from students.
In a highly unusual public spat, the Department of Education and the school broke off negotiations last week on an agreement that would have restored some of the loan money.
A first-year student, who asked not to be named, told the Observer that the impasse forced her to drop out of the Charlotte school. As a single parent, she said she depended on student loans for tuition and living expenses, and had received word this month that she had been approved for an extension to cover the new semester.
Now she won’t get the money. She says she trying to get out of her apartment lease and had to withdraw from a promising internship. She has returned to her California home carrying $30,000 in student-loan debt but hoping to resurrect her dreams of a law career there.
“It’s a heart-breaker, especially if you worked hard and passed your classes,” she said.
Gordon said he was shocked to learn that even though CSL has the lowest bar exam passage rates in the state, school leaders fired the coaches who help students prepare for the test.
“In my opinion, the administration has eliminated any possibility of presuming they are acting in the best interests of the students from here on out,” Gordon said.