A new collaboration between California community colleges and top law schools announced Thursday could boost prospects for low-income and minority students pursuing legal careers.
The new initiative will partner six of the state's top law schools with 24 community colleges to provide the two-year students with individual advising and mentoring, financial aid counseling, access to law school faculty, tutoring for entrance exams and a waiver of law school application fees.
The project, sponsored by the State Bar of California's Council on Access and Fairness, is expected to draw a more diverse set of prospective students to the legal profession by tapping the two-year schools' vast population of students from low-income backgrounds.
"We know that our community colleges have the diversity and talent that the State Bar seeks to enhance the diversity pipeline into the legal profession, as evidenced by the many prominent judges and lawyers who attended community colleges," State Bar Chief Executive Joseph Dunn said in a statement.
Participating law schools are USC's Gould School of Law, Loyola Law School, the University of San Francisco School of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law, and law schools at UC Davis and UC Irvine.
Irvine's law school dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, said he was confident that the program would create a new pool of students for his program. Students of color already make up nearly 45% of the enrollment at Irvine's law school, which opened in 2009 as the state's first new public law school in 40 years.
Students in the program who take prescribed courses are guaranteed that credits will transfer.
Santa Clarita's College of the Canyons, one of the participating community colleges, already offers an associate's degree in paralegal studies as well as training in the investigation of civil rights claims, in association with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The new partnerhsip will allow students to advance even further, said College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook.
"This is a rare opportunity," Hook said. "With our outstanding paralegal program and Civil Rights Clinic, we are uniquely positioned to help students pursue careers in law."
Other participating community colleges include Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Mission College, Rio Hondo Community College and Santa Ana College.