New Campbell law school program offers flexibility

08/27/2014 5:37 PM

08/28/2014 5:49 AM

Finishing law school is Amy Heimel’s dream. As a 46-year-old single mother of three children, fulfilling that dream isn’t easy.

Last year, Heimel started as a full-time student at Campbell University’s law school in downtown Raleigh, but was forced to withdraw.

“I withdrew knowing that I didn’t think I was going to complete it,” she said. “I thought that was the end of my dream because I’ve been wanting to do this for 20 years.”

Then an online search brought her back to Campbell. The school’s new Campbell Flex program, which ushered in its first round of students this month, is targeted to people with work or family obligations that prevent them from attending full time. Students are allowed to finish their law degree within seven years, instead of the usual three, and pay only half of the $37,800 tuition each year.

In the first year, Campbell Flex students take half of the normal load and finish the second half the following year. After that, it’s up to them to earn 90 credits at whatever speed they can accommodate.

“It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for me and my situation,” Heimel said.

Campbell announced the Flex program last fall at a time when law schools were becoming a less attractive option for many people because of climbing student debt and an uncertain job market. Nationally, applications for last fall’s entering class were down 12.3 percent – the third straight year of decline, according to the Law School Admission Council.

Heimel is one of 18 Flex students who started last Monday, more than Campbell expected to enroll, said J. Rich Leonard, dean of the law school.

“We thought if we got 10 applicants in the first year it would be extraordinary because we were really asking people to change their lives on a dime,” Leonard said. “We were astounded when we got 40.”

Enrollment at Campbell has increased by 64 students since last fall, including the new Flex students, even though the applicant pool for law students nationwide is the smallest it has been since 1974, according to the Law School Admission Council.

“I think we’ve done a good job of demonstrating that we are an exceptional school in an extraordinary city,” Leonard said. “We’ve just upped our recruiting game to make a pretty obvious case for why this is a great place to come to school.”

Most law schools require a three-year, full-time commitment. N.C. Central University in Durham offers an evening program with classes three nights a week for four years on a year-round basis.

Jonathan Lewis considered the N.C. Central program before opting for Campbell Flex.

“Central’s evening program is almost a separate school, whereas at Campbell you’re pretty much integrated into classes with all the other students,” said Lewis, 32, who works full time at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office while providing for his wife and 11-year-old son. “You have the same professors. You have the same classmates. You just go at a slightly slower pace.”

Army veteran Matt Lancaster is a single parent who started out as a full-time law student at Campbell. At the time, Lancaster, 38, was working at a company called Workplace Options recruiting mental health professionals for an employee assistance program, a job he still holds.

“Whenever I applied I was still trying to figure out how in the world I was going to manage financially,” he said. “The thought of the student loans I was going to have to take out at my age and the debt I was going to have to incur, it was startling.”

One day after he received his acceptance letter, Lancaster saw an online advertisement for the Flex program.

“The one thing I’ve learned in all of my years is what you think you want to do and what you think you have planned doesn’t always work out that way,” he said.

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