Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Thomas Jefferson School of Law in downtown San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

An American Bar Association panel recently voted to strip embattled Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego of its national accreditation, a decision that was publicly announced Monday.

Thomas Jefferson, which intends to appeal the decision, will remain accredited while the appeals process runs its course.

The school has faced a series of financial and academic challenges in recent years that led to it being placed on probation in November 2017, a move that signaled Thomas Jefferson could eventually lose its ABA stamp of approval.

In voting to strip the school’s accreditation, the ABA’s legal education council pointed to the school’s noncompliance with a standard requiring its “current and anticipated financial resources” to be sufficient to properly operate.

The school has struggled financially since taking on significant debt to build a new $90 million facility in East Village amid the financial recession last decade.

The ABA also found Thomas Jefferson failed to comply with the accreditation standard requiring it to “only admit applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”

Just 25 percent of the school’s first-time test-takers passed the July 2018 California bar exam, the lowest percentage among the state’s 21 ABA-accredited schools. The school’s graduates who took the test for the first time in July 2017 also performed the worst among the state’s nationally accredited law schools.

In addition, the ABA said Thomas Jefferson has not complied with the accreditation standard requiring it to maintain a rigorous program of legal education.

Thomas Jefferson has until July 10 to formally appeal the decision and said it plans to do so.

“The law school is disappointed by this capricious decision and strongly disagrees with the Council’s findings,” the school said in a statement. “The law school has taken concrete and significant steps in response to the council’s concerns, and has fundamentally changed, transforming into a smaller, stronger school.”

The school has drastically downsized in recent years as part of an effort to boost the academic credentials of those it has admitted. Thomas Jefferson, which moved to a smaller downtown location last year, also said it has eliminated $42 million in debt to bolster its finances.

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, said he was not surprised by the ABA’s decision. He said the school’s history of weak admissions standards and poor outcomes for its graduates, including on the bar exam and in securing employment, scared away top-notch students.

“It was a long time coming,” McEntee said.

Thomas Jefferson said the appeals process could extend through the fall.

Last year the school successfully sought approval to become a state-accredited school if it lost its national accreditation.

The state accreditation kicking in would ensure Thomas Jefferson’s graduates could still take the California bar exam. But graduates would no longer be automatically eligible to take the bar exam in other states.

Losing its national accreditation would also likely make it much harder for Thomas Jefferson to attract students, especially those with strong academic track records.

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