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The Associated Press State & Local Wire
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March 30, 2005, Wednesday, BC cycle
SECTION: State and Regional
LENGTH: 604 words
HEADLINE: UMass makes closing argument for law school
BYLINE: By KEN MAGUIRE, Associated Press Writer
University of Massachusetts officials say they'll reduce in-state tuition and step up private fund-raising to win the approval of the Board of Higher Education for a proposed public law school.
The board was scheduled to vote Thursday on UMass' plan to acquire the Southern New England School of Law in Dartmouth and create the state's first public law school. UMass claims it can operate the school at no cost to taxpayers.
Backers and opponents of the law school both lobbied hard Wednesday in hopes of swaying the vote.
John F. O'Brien, dean of the New England School of Law in Boston, wrote to the board saying it would hard for the law school to draw top students without national accreditation, while UMass administrators fine-tuned their sales pitch to respond to board members' concerns.
UMass President Jack Wilson told The Associated Press Wednesday that in-state tuition and fees would be around $16,000 in the first year. That's down from earlier projections of about $19,000, which would have been the fourth highest in-state tuition among the nation's public law schools.
Board Chairman Stephen P. Tocco said in a hearing last week that $19,000 was "much too high," and told school officials to bring the cost in line with other public law schools in the region.
In-state tuition is about $13,000 at the University of Maine's law school, and $14,000 at the University of Connecticut.
"The goal is to match (tuition) to the surrounding states," Wilson said.
But lowering in-state tuition means nonresidents would pay more.
"But it's not going to be that much larger," he said. "It doesn't have to go up by the same amount."
UMass has also pledged to raise $5 million to help offset the lower tuition, beef up the library, increase financial aid, and cover any shortfalls in enrollment projections - all of which is geared toward gaining national accreditation.
"We've increased the pledge of fund-raising, and we've shown where it would go," Wilson said.
Still, Board of Higher Education member Matthew E. Carlin said he plans to vote against the proposal. "From my standpoint: wrong initiative, wrong place at the wrong time," he said, declining to comment further.
Board member Kathleen A. Kelley, head of the state's second biggest teachers union, plans to vote for the law school, which she called a "wonderful opportunity" for UMass and for southeastern Massachusetts.
Other board members, including Tocco, did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.
University administrators want to merge the 260-student law school, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, with the existing UMass-Dartmouth campus. They plan to double the enrollment while refocusing its curriculum on public service.
Southern New England agreed to donate its campus and other assets to the state, which in turn would accept $2.5 million in debt.
Administrators at the state's private law schools have been among the most strident opponents of the UMass plan, claiming the university eventually will need taxpayer support to get accredited.
"It stands to reason that if you're trying to recruit the best students, it's unlikely they're coming to your school if it's unaccredited," O'Brien said Wednesday, noting that the only way to attract them would be through tuition breaks. "You can't count on tuition revenues to sustain you in the early years."
Southern New England currently has regional accreditation allowing graduates to take the bar exam in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
UMass' Board of Trustees approved the merger in December.
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