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On Our Radar – Law school access

On Our Radar features HEQCO staff and guest bloggers offering their unique perspectives on trends, new ideas, and hot-button issues in higher education. The opinions are those of the authors.

Access to postsecondary education has been a research priority for HEQCO since its inception.  An interesting twist to the access issue has recently surfaced with new initiatives in Canada and the U.K.—albeit addressing the issue from very different angles.

Law school access is the focus of these initiatives. Falling in line with prestigious American law schools such as New York, Harvard, and UCLA, the University of Toronto recently launched a program that will offer the LSAT prep course for free to lower income students. The logic behind the program is that the cost of prep courses is a barrier to access for many students who cannot afford the $500 and $1,000 price tag for similar courses, which inevitably tips the balance in favour of wealthier students. In an effort to level the playing field (at least in terms of access), U of T will offer the free prep course to students who have at least a 78% undergraduate average, are in their third or fourth year and receive the Canada Student Grant for Persons from Low-Income Families (household income cut off $50,000 for a family of four).

While this initiative is not meant to address the particular demographics of students that typically apply to law school (research shows they tend to be wealthier and have more highly educated parents who work in similarly prestigious positions), this program acknowledges that law school is a pricey endeavour from the get-go, even before application, not to mention the steep tuition costs that follow. So, let’s give students in need a small break to (hopefully) help level the bar in terms of how prepared they’ll be once the time comes to take the LSAT. I don’t predict access to this course will have a huge impact in terms of acceptance rates for lower income students, but it will at the very least give them the confidence of knowing that they are as prepared to write the LSAT as their higher income peers.

Birkbeck University in the U.K. takes access to another level. Acknowledging the rising cost of pursuing a law degree in the U.K., Birkbeck has created a taster of sorts for students contemplating a plunge or switch into a law degree. Similar to retail pop-up shops, Birkbeck’s “three minute law degree” entices participants to get a taste of doing a law degree before spending a fortune on one. The intended logic behind the initiative is to get potential students in to a classroom, even if only for a few minutes, with the hope that they will decide to apply in future. Students may decide not to actually pursue a law degree, which would save them from spending a fortune by mistake.

While these two law school examples tell quite different stories, both approaches are directed at lower income students—either by providing them with a leg-up or a foot in the door before application. Students from higher income backgrounds have both, and if these programs improve access rates for students in need, then they are worthwhile endeavours in my book.

-Vicky Maldonado, Research Intern

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