California's unaccredited law schools, which collectively have an 85% dropout rate, will soon have to disclose their attrition rates to prospective students.
State bar trustees voted Friday to require the schools to publish their dropout rates for the last five years.
The 12-to-1 vote came after The Times revealed that students in the state's unaccredited law schools were far more likely to drop out than students at nationally accredited law schools, which have a dropout rate of about 12%.
Students who attended the unaccredited schools said they were not aware that so few students finished their degrees.
"It's a great move," said Kyle McEntee, executive director of the nonprofit group Law School Transparency. "The schools already have this information and sharing it [more widely] will protect the consumers and the public."
Unaccredited schools are required to report their attrition rates to the State Bar of California, but that information is kept in paper files at the group's San Francisco office, making it difficult for prospective students to see. Now that will change.
Beginning in June, the state's 22 unaccredited law schools will have to create forms that show their dropout figures for the last five years. Students will be required to sign and return those forms once a year, before they pay tuition.
The information on the forms should also be available on the schools' websites.
State Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) would like the schools to go even further. He has introduced legislation that would require them to disclose the undergraduate grade point averages and Law School Admission Test scores of their students.
That information would allow prospective students "to make an apples to apples comparison" with accredited law schools, Block said. He added that he may amend his bill to require schools to post alumni job placement information, as nationally accredited schools do.
California is one of a handful of states that allows unaccredited schools to operate. The schools must register with the state bar but are held to few academic standards. Nationally accredited schools that are overseen by the American Bar Assn., including those at USC and UCLA, must maintain minimum bar passage rates.
Among students who graduated from California's unaccredited law schools and took the state bar exam, about one in five pass, according to the most recent state statistics. About half the students from nationally accredited schools who took the test were successful.
Unaccredited schools often do not require LSAT scores or even a college degree. They are considerably cheaper than nationally accredited schools, costing as little as $3,000 annually. Average tuition at private law schools was nearly $42,000 in 2013, according to the American Bar Assn.
Some state bar trustees have voiced concerns about the quality of unaccredited schools in the past. Patti White, a former trustee, said she and others were worried that the schools were "not giving the students who pay money to attend them a realistic chance of passing the bar."
Having access to dropout rates will help students more accurately assess their potential for success before enrolling in unaccredited law schools, current trustees said.
"I think it makes for good public policy," said trustee Miriam Krinsky. "Consumers are entitled to know the quality of the schools they are applying to."
But some law school administrators and trustees have said the new regulations would create a false impression that the schools are entirely to blame for the high dropout rates.
Many students at unaccredited schools have jobs and quickly find they don't have enough time to study. In addition, some students fail a required exam known as the "baby bar" at the end of their first year and are not eligible to continue their studies, even if they would like to stay enrolled.
"My fear is [the new rules] would distract consumers from what the real issues are," said trustee Brandon Stallings, a Bakersfield-based attorney who attended the unaccredited Oak Brook College of Law and Government.
Stallings was the sole dissenting vote.