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Northern Kentucky University – Salmon P. Chase College of Law
Published March 2010, last updated July 2010
Northern Kentucky University lies seven miles southeast of Cincinnati, OH, in the suburb of Highland Heights, KY. The university draws over 15,000 students, about 600 of whom are students at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law. Founded as a part-time program in 1893 and accredited by the ABA in 1954, the law school still maintains a large part-time division; in 2009-2010, 235 of its 611 students were in the part-time program.
The school's namesake, Salmon P. Chase, served during the Civil War era as a senator from Ohio, governor of Ohio, United States Secretary of the Treasury, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was a prominent opponent of the expansion of slavery into new territories. He also designed the first United States federal banknotes, and his face appears on the now out-of-print $10,000 bill.
Admissions and Tuition
For the full-time class entering in 2009, Northern Kentucky University had an acceptance rate of 42.7%. NKU matriculants had LSATs tightly clustered in the low-to-mid-150s range, with a 25th percentile of 152, a 75th percentile of 157, and a median of 154; the school's website lists an overall “LSAT range” of 151-157. Meanwhile, the 25th-75th range of GPAs was 3.16 to 3.64, with a median of 3.39. Of the 439 full-time applicants admitted to the class entering in 2009, 31% ultimately chose to attend. With unusual candor amid the popular rhetoric of holistic admissions, NKU states in its introduction to the application process that “[t]he Admissions Committee relies heavily on each applicant's undergraduate grades and performance on the LSAT during the application review process”.
NKU also has a part-time program about half the size of the full-time program. Its LSAT range (25th-median-75th) was 150-152-154, and its GPA range was 3.07-3.27-3.41. It had an acceptance rate of 44.4% and a matriculation rate of 68%.
Northern Kentucky University is a public university, so the Chase College of Law offers a lower tuition rate for students who are Kentucky residents. In the 2009-2010 academic year, Kentucky residents will pay a mere $7,371 per semester for full-time attendance or $567 per credit-hour in the part-time program, versus the out-of-state tuition of $16,081 per semester or $1,237 per credit-hour. Additionally, owing to its location within easy driving distance of both Ohio and Indiana, NKU offers tuition lower than the out-of-state rate but higher than the in-state rate to residents of nine counties in Ohio and six counties in Indiana. This tuition rate, called the Metro rate, will be $12,142 per full-time semester and $934 per credit-hour.
First-year students at NKU-Chase must take Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, and Property in addition to two general introductory courses, one called Basic Legal Skills and the other called Legal Analysis and Problem Solving. For 2Ls, one semester of Constitutional Law and two semesters of Criminal Law are required. Apart from these mandatory courses, students have some freedom when it comes to filling their 2L and 3L schedules. In addition to the full-time and part-time JD programs, NKU-Chase offers a dual JD/MBA program, which can be completed with four years of full-time attendance or six years of part-time work.
Like many lower-tier law schools, NKU-Chase has a strong emphasis on the practical skills necessary for success as a lawyer, rather than the theoretical aspects of law. The school boasts three learning centers where students can develop these skills through coursework and extracurricular activities. The first of these is the NKU-Chase Center for Excellence in Advocacy, which teaches students how to represent clients from the pre-trial phase through the appeals process in either a criminal or a civil context. All students are welcome to take courses through the CEA, pursue externships and participate in clinics through the center, or join various competitive teams, such as the national trial team. For those with a special interest in the area, a Certificate in Advocacy is also available. The second such center is the Transactional Law Practice Center, which offers skills workshops in areas such as Accounting for Lawyers, Interviewing, Contracts Drafting, and Real Estate Transactions, as well as externships with local attorneys and a Certificate in Transactional Law. Finally, the Local Government Law Center provides assistance to local agencies with technical legal matters while offering students internship and externship opportunities in the area of local government.
Despite such attractions, students considering NKU-Chase would do well to look into some of the school's weaknesses as well, such as its sky-high attrition rate (20.2% for the class entering in 2008). Although information that would provide an obvious explanation for this attrition rate is scarce, a 2005 survey of Student Bar Association presidents at schools across the nation presents an ominous clue: when SBA presidents were asked about the biggest issues facing their law schools, the first problem listed by NKU-Chase's SBA president was “addressing the C curve.” If prospective students are worried that a harsh grading curve might make it tough for them to stay in school, approaching current students with their questions is one way to get frank, first-hand information on the subject.
Employment Prospects and Bar Passage
NKU-Chase students had an 89% pass rate for the Kentucky Bar in July 2009, surpassing the state average of 84%, and an 84% pass rate for the Ohio Bar, just below that state's average of 88%. The school reports a respectable 93% of 2008 graduates employed by 9 months after graduation, with an average starting salary of $60,044. Of these employed graduates, 52% are employed in private practice, 21% in “business and industry,” 10% in government, 8% in clerkships, 7% in public interest, and 1% each in the military and academia. Unfortunately, however, data on what percentage of graduates this profile represents (i.e., what percentage of graduates actually responded to the survey on employment) is not readily available. It should be noted that employment prospects seem very restricted by region; the class of 2008 is employed in only 8 states and Washington D.C., and during on-campus interviewing in the 2007-2008 academic year, NKU-Chase hosted just one firm from New York, one from Washington D.C., and none from California.
Quality of Life
While the city of Highland Heights technically has only 6,500 residents, its proximity to Cincinnati gives it the feel of a quiet suburb rather than a small town. Stores, restaurants, and other amenities are within easy walking distance of campus, and students with cars can reach downtown Cincinnati – or the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport – in minutes. Outdoor sports enthusiasts, meanwhile, will appreciate the recreation opportunities afforded by the hills to the south and the Ohio River and Licking River to the north. Cost of living is cheap, with rents ranging from less than $400 per month for a bare-bones studio to just under $1000 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment in a luxury riverfront high-rise.
The Chase College of Law's geographically restricted job prospects and high 1L attrition rate should give pause to those who consider applying; a prospective student should know his financial situation, his career goals, and his “Plan B” before jumping into something that is potentially risky and yet limiting if successful. However, for students who plan to practice law in the Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio tri-state area – especially those who can take advantage of the school's rock-bottom in-state and Metro tuition rates – NKU-Chase's affordability and focus on practical lawyering skills may make it a smart choice.
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