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To attract students, law schools at KU and UMKC engage in a tuition border war

Updated: 2014-02-17T03:27:26Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

The University of Missouri-Kansas City has been saying “border, schmorder” to Kansas since it began offering in-state undergraduate tuition rates to most residents across the state line four years ago.

Now the University of Kansas School of Law is responding: “Right back at you.”

KU Law says it will use a new scholarship program to allow residents of 11 Missouri counties to pay what amounts to in-state tuition: $19,623 a year instead of the out-of-state rate of $33,067.

“We’ve always considered ourselves Kansas City’s leading law school,” assistant dean Steven Freedman said in a news release. “Now with the Vantage Scholarship, we feel we can recruit just as well on both sides of the border.”

Leaders at the UMKC School of Law weren’t happy to hear KU label itself Kansas City’s leading law school.

“I don’t know what that means,” said Ellen Suni, the school’s dean. “We have for a long time been Kansas City’s law school. We have a great relationship with the Kansas City community. We are the only law school in Kansas City.”

UMKC Law officials said that for years, a substantial number of their students have crossed the state line from Kansas. And Suni said that while UMKC Law does not have a formal program waiving out-of-state tuition for Kansas residents, “virtually all” out-of-state students get scholarships that lower tuition to in-state levels.

In 2012, UMKC had 25 first-year law students from Kansas; only three of them did not get the in-state tuition rate. Last year, four of 37 first-year students from Kansas did not get the in-state rate.

For Missouri residents, tuition and fees at UMKC Law are $17,885 a year. For out-of-state students, full fare is $35,995 a year.

With fewer students enrolling in the nation’s law schools — 68 percent of schools accredited by the American Bar Association reported lower first-year enrollment in 2013 — schools are casting their nets wider.

At UMKC Law, where applications have declined 50 percent since 2010, Suni said recruiters are looking farther for students.

Last year, UMKC Law applications were down 12 percent from 2012. But more of the students who were accepted actually enrolled , said John Martellaro, a university spokesman.

That meant a bump in enrollment. UMKC started the 2013-2014 school year with 172 first-year law students, 20 more than a year earlier.

At KU Law School, donations from alumni make the Vantage Scholarships possible, said Stephen W. Mazza, dean of the law school.

Mazza said looking across the state line is a way for KU Law to expand its pool of potential students, not an attempt to increase enrollment.

For Courtney Stout of Kansas City, KU’s new program “changed the playing field.”

Stout, a 22-year-old University of Missouri senior who is on track to graduate in May with a degree in business and economics, plans to go to law school in the fall and wants to be closer to home.

“KU is close, but with the out-of-state tuition I couldn’t consider it,” said Stout, who is living in Columbia until she graduates. “The Vantage grant put KU on the same field now with any of the Missouri law schools. It makes KU more feasible for me.”

Students from Bates, Buchanan, Cass, Clay, Clinton, Henry, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Platte and Ray counties are eligible for the discounted tuition.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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