The Charleston School of Law has been trudging along on life support for months, but could it be about to take its final breath?
While students were taking final exams Tuesday, George Kosko and Robert Carr, the remaining owners of the troubled law school, released a statement that said they might not enroll a new class of students in the fall.
They did not elaborate on what the statement might mean for the future of the for-profit law school, and said they would not make additional comments until next week, when they plan to release an update on the school’s situation.
American Bar Association and state rules prohibit the school from simply closing its doors. If the board decides to close the school, it would have to submit a “teach-out” plan that details how students who already are enrolled would finish their education programs.
Some students said they were confused about what the statement meant, and they found it disturbing that owners would release it in the middle of exams.
In their prepared statement, Kosko and Carr said they could not in good faith enroll another class when “like last year, the school is spending more money than is coming in.”
They also said they cannot assure the students that they will be able to use federal student loans for their full three years, and are not sure the school will be able to maintain its license and stay open.
“We are heartbroken with this situation,” Kosko and Carr stated in the release. “It was a dream for the two of us to build an American Bar Association accredited law school. It was a dream to see it operate for over 12 years and educate more than 1,500 lawyers. This has been a wonderful ride, and we have always done what we thought was in the best interest of the school and the students.”
Second-year student Drew Waxler of Burlington, Vt., said he expected to be able to finish his final year at the school next year and return home to start his career. But he expressed disappointment that the school’s days appear to be numbered. “It is discouraging that you won’t have an alma mater to take pride in after graduation if they do decide to stop taking” new classes of students.
He thought that with so many legal professionals involved, the future of the school could have been salvaged. “Unfortunately, it did not work out that way,” he said. “There really is no excuse in my mind why it came down to this,” he added.
Student Bar Association President Matt Kelly said he’s not yet sure what the statement means. But, he said, he thinks “it’s the actions of the board that put us here.”
Students still are willing to engage in a conversation with the board, he said. Options besides a sale to the for-profit InfiLaw System still exist for the future of the school, Kelly said. One of those possibilities is converting the school to a nonprofit organization.
But Kosko and Carr said that nobody who disagrees with their decisions has given “more than empty promises and false hopes” about the future of the school.
Ed Westbrook, one of the school’s founders and former owners, had proposed creating a nonprofit organization to take over the school. But Westbrook in March announced that he was stepping down from the board and severing his ties with the school.
The college has been in turmoil since owners in 2013 announced that a sale to InfiLaw was in the works. Many students, faculty and members of the state’s legal community are opposed to a sale to InfiLaw because they think the company’s three law schools have lower standards than the Charleston school. Becoming an InfiLaw school will decrease the value of a Charleston School of Law degree, they have said.
InfiLaw representatives have said they currently have no plans to reapply for a license to operate in South Carolina from the state’s Commission on Higher Education.
Law school owners and InfiLaw representatives have said the school is in a financial crisis due to declining enrollment and the owners taking $25 million in profit out of the school between 2010 and 2013.
Second-year student Zach Brown said this isn’t the first time the board has “released troubling news in the middle of our exam season.” It’s disturbing, he said, but students know “higher education institutions can not close overnight.”
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.