Syracuse Law School Announces Intent to Create Online JD Program

(Photo: Jeffrey Betts, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Jeffrey Betts, Creative Commons)

Syracuse University College of Law has announced plans to introduce a hybrid Juris Doctor program that offers students the ability to participate in the majority of their classes online.

The announcement of the part-time program came with an expected launch date of sometime in early 2018.  Students will take most of their classes each week online and will come to campus for a week once or twice per year.  Interim law dean William Banks said the program was created in an effort to reverse the decline in enrollment the school is currently experiencing.

“We’ve been hit, just like nearly everyone else,” Banks said. “Our student body is down about 30 percent compared to seven or eight years ago. We’re smaller than we were, and we have the capacity to offer more. We think the online environment is compelling.”

Data from the American Bar Association shows enrollment in law schools across the country having dropped close to 5% in 2015, which includes a decrease of 2.2% in the size of first-year classes, writes Karen Sloan for The National Law Journal.

Syracuse will be the second ABA-accredited law school to introduce a hybrid J.D. program.  The first was launched by Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul in 2015.  While other law schools already offer LL.Ms or master’s programs for non-lawyers that are completely online, J.D. programs are more complicated to offer online because they are subject to more American Bar Association rules.

Educational technology company 2U, Inc. is currently working with Syracuse to create the online degree track.  The university is hoping to design their courses using a 2U program that would offer professors the ability to make use of the Socratic method of randomly calling on students.  In addition, students would be able to receive feedback from their peers and professors in real-time.

Administrators are hoping that between 30 and 50 students will enroll in the program in its first year, eventually increasing to 300 students.  Tuition will be the same as for the residential program at the school.

Banks said the school is looking to enroll other types of students beyond those who participate in the traditional program, including students with families, jobs, military personnel, and disabled people that find navigating the campus too difficult, reports Michael Burke for The Daily Orange.

“This partnership will enable the College of Law to reach talented students nationwide and allow us to grant unprecedented access to Syracuse Law’s outstanding legal education,” SU Chancellor Kent Syverud said in the release.

ABA accreditation standards say J.D. students cannot take more than 15 credit hours of distance education classes, which is an increase from the 12 credit hours that were in place until 2013.  The change allows students to enroll in one entire semester of classes not on the campus.  In addition, current rules state that credit-bearing online courses must include the “opportunity for regular and substantive interaction between faculty members and student and among students,” writes Sara Randazzo for The Wall Street Journal.

Syracuse will need to gain special permission from the ABA to offer the online program in addition to the approval of the New York State Education Department.