Charleston School of Law students frustrated over unanswered ownership questions

Charleston School of Law students want answers about the school’s future.

Charleston School of Law students are fuming and they want answers now about the future ownership of the school, says Matt Kelly, president of the Student Bar Association.

The for-profit law school’s owners nearly two years ago announced that a sale to InfiLaw System was in the works. But that sale hasn’t happened. And a plan to convert the school to a nonprofit organization appears to have fizzled, as well.

“We want a clear path forward and full disclosure on the current status of the school in terms of its financial status and its status with InfiLaw,” Kelly said.

Tuition at the law school this year is $39,096, and many students borrow more than a $100,000 in student loans to pay for their law degrees.

“We don’t know who is controlling the school,” Kelly said. “And it’s students who are funding the institution.”

Law school spokesman Andy Brack said George Kosko and Robert Carr, the school’s two remaining owners, continue to work to secure its future. “The students are facing end-of-term exams, and their success is our foremost concern. As such, an update on the school will be communicated after exams are over.”

The school’s exam period runs through the first week of May.

InfiLaw spokeswoman Kathy Heldman, in a prepared statement, said the company now has no plans to refile an application for a license to operate in South Carolina with the state’s Commission on Higher Education.

The company previously had applied for a license, and commission staffers had recommended it be approved. But InfiLaw in June pulled its application less than 24 hours before the commission was to vote on it. Company officials previously said they intended to reapply.

“As is well known, due to a series of financial and budgetary decisions made by the owners along with a decreasing enrollment, the school faces a financial crisis,” Heldman stated. “Based on these facts, it is clear the owners need the space and time to develop a plan that puts the school’s financial house in order, including steps to meet all of their current and past financial obligations. Therefore we are considering our long term options.”

Ed Westbrook, one of the school’s former owners, has said the school was profitable. But its finances were strained when owners pulled out $25 million in profits between 2010-13, before the InfiLaw announcement was made. And a management services fee the school must regularly pay to InfiLaw is adding to the school’s budgetary woes. The amount of that fee however has not been disclosed.

Westbrook had been pushing for the school to become a nonprofit organization. But earlier this month he announced that he would resign from the board and sever his ties with the school.

Enrollment at the school dropped 16 percent this year, from 542 students in the fall of 2013 to 454 students this past fall. School officials said they don’t yet have enrollment estimates for the fall of 2015.

Kelly said the situation quickly is becoming unbearable for students who need information so they can make decisions about their future education and careers. “It adds more stress to the law school experience, which itself is stressful.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.