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Law.com: Syracuse's New Online JD Portends Popularity of Hybrid Programs

Posted on Wednesday 1/9/2019

(Law.com | Jan. 9, 2019) Syracuse University College of Law this week kicked off its hybrid Juris Doctor program in which students complete the bulk of their coursework online—only the second such program in the nation approved by the American Bar Association.

The inaugural cohort of Syracuse’s JDinteractive program comprises 32 students selected from a pool of 241 applicants. The online students were subject to the same admissions standards as applicants to Syracuse’s residential program, and in fact the LSAT scores of the first admitted online class were higher than those of the residential students, said Nina Kohn, associate dean for online education at the school.

The high interest in Syracuse’s new hybrid bodes well for other schools with plans to break into online J.D.s. (Many law schools already offer LL.M.s, Masters in Law, and certificates online, but schools have experienced more barriers to obtain accreditation of online J.D.s, because of the ABA’s 30-credit limit on distance education.) Like Syracuse, Southwestern Law School and the University of Dayton School of Law have received variances from the ABA to offer those hybrid J.D.s that exceed the 30-credit limit, but those two programs aren’t due to launch until August. Still other schools have or plan to add hybrid programs that work within the existing 30-credit limitation by incorporating more on-campus time.

Mitchell Hamline School of Law in 2015 launched the first hybrid program and graduated its first class of online students in early 2018. (A spokesman for the St. Paul school was unable to provide data Wednesday on the current number of students or the bar pass rates of those who had completed program.)

Syracuse’s hybrid differs from existing offerings in part due to its emphasis on online classes delivered in real-time, alongside the more common self-paced online classes of other programs that allow students to complete them at their convenience. JDinteractive took four years of planning, Kohn said, and classes are taught primarily by the school’s regular law faculty.

“I think we have the potential to set the standard for what a quality legal education looks like in this online space,” she said.

Syracuse’s first hybrid class represents a departure from typical incoming law students. They are significantly older with an average age of 35, and 41 percent are first-generation college students. Most are midcareer or in senior roles in their fields and see a law degree as a way to either advance or take their careers in a new direction, Kohn said. They aren’t going to law school on a whim, but have a clear view of how they want to leverage their J.D.s, she added ...

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