U Law School may need to go it alone


With the end of the fiscal year approaching, the University of Minnesota Law School is preparing for cuts in state funding and could soon join the small group of public law schools around the country that receive little to no state funding.

Should it become self-sufficient, the Law School’s entire budget would come from private donations and tuition revenue.

“We’ll be in single digits in terms of the percentage of our support that comes from the state this coming fiscal year,” Law School Dean David Wippman  said. “No one can be entirely certain what will happen after that.”

When Wippman started as dean in 2008, 22 percent of the Law School’s budget came from state funding. This year it decreased to 12 percent, or just $5 million of its total $42 million budget.

Like other public schools around the country, the University is facing deep budget cuts to higher education. In response, some graduate schools are making the switch to self-sufficiency.

The University of Virginia School of Law  became financially self-sufficient almost a decade ago, and the University of California-Los Angeles Anderson School of Management announced in 2010 it will also be making the switch.

Paul Hassen at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities  said large public institutions, after losing state funding over the past 20 years, “are being squeezed by the state.”

Graduate schools have an advantage over undergraduate schools in this switch, he said.

Schools at the graduate level can fundraise more than undergraduate schools thanks to graduate alumni and tuition increases.

Wippman said tuition will continue to rise next year.

Cortney Jones graduated from the Law School this spring and said tuition increased in both her second and third years.

“It’s unfortunate that this has to happen, but I imagine the Law School is already feeling the strain of finances,” she said.

For the 2010-11 school year, tuition for in-state first-year law students was $28,824.

The Law School launched the Generations campaign  in April to raise $70 million over the course of five years, including $30 million for scholarships to lessen the burdens of higher tuition. Other goals include adding faculty, expanding programs and raising general operating money for the school.

The loss of virtually all state funding has made the campaigning more urgent, Wippman said.

“As the cost of law school education increases and difficulties on students increase correspondingly, we’ve tried to mitigate that as much as we can by increasing scholarship support,” he said.

More than two-thirds of students at the Law School receive scholarships.

The loss of state funding doesn’t bother law student Hyrum Salmond. “To be honest, I’m not worried,” he said.

“It’s expensive enough as it is, and it’s not like I’m going to drop out of school because it gets more expensive.”