KU law school courting Missourians with new scholarships

Anna Kimbrell, Lawrence, a third-year KU law student, studies in the law school library Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. The University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas are in a border war of sorts as they vie for law school students.

The Kansas University law school is trying to reel in Missourians from the Kansas City area using new scholarships that reduce tuition to in-state rates.

The scholarships come at a time when the university is trying to expand its footprint in the Kansas City area and when fewer people are applying to law school.

KU law dean Stephen Mazza said the program has been in the pipeline for a couple of years. “For lawyers, the Missouri-Kansas divide doesn’t mean much,” Mazza said. “This is our way of eliminating that divide.”

But the Kansas-Missouri divide might not have been eliminated completely. A line in a KU press release about the scholarships from Steven Freedman, the law school’s assistant dean of admissions, seems to have raised some hackles over the border.

“We’ve always considered ourselves Kansas City’s leading law school,” Freedman said in the release. In response, Ellen Suni, dean of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, told the Kansas City Star, “I don’t know what that means. We have for a long time been Kansas City’s law school.”

Both Freedman and Mazza said the scholarships are about attracting students whose first choice would be KU, rather than competing with UMKC for students or over tuition prices.

“We’re in the Kansas City region, so we’re comfortable saying we’re a Kansas City law school just like we’re comfortable saying we’re a Kansas law school,” Freedman said in an interview.

Expanding the pool of applicants

Rather than an outright reduction in tuition, the new scholarships provide money through the law school’s endowment account to eliminate the difference between resident tuition, which is $19,623.35 for first-year law students, and nonresident tuition, which is $33,067.75 a year. Applicants from 11 Missouri counties in the Kansas City metro area will be eligible.

Missourians made up 8 percent of students coming to the KU law school in 2013 and 6 percent in 2012, according to figures from the law school’s admissions office.

In recent years the law school has reduced its incoming class of students. To address the declining job market for lawyers and decrease in law school applicants, the school set its target enrollment at about 120 students for the 2013 and 2014 school years, down from 175 students in the 2012-2013 school year.

Mazza said the Vantage scholarship wasn’t an attempt to increase the class size, but the school does hope it will help expand the pool of applicants.

Freedman called the scholarships a “no-brainer.” “The fact that we were losing students because of this weird quirk of history didn’t make any sense at all,” he said.