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American Bar Association Finds Ave Maria's Admissions Practices Lacking

The committee of the American Bar Association that accredits law schools has told the Ave Maria School of Law it is not in compliance with accreditation standards relating to admissions policies and practices. The ABA has given the law school a specific list of remedial actions it needs to take, and will review the situation in a few months.

The directive came following a review of the law school's operations which included a scheduled ABA site visit that occurs every seven years for all fully accredited law schools in the U.S.

Ave Maria Law remains fully accredited by the ABA.

The standards the law school was found to be out of compliance with require the school to have "sound admissions policies and practices" and admit only applicants who "appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar."

The ABA's accreditation practices themselves have been criticized recently by the U.S. organization that supervises all higher education accrediting agencies, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). The NACIQI recommended in June that the U.S. Department of Education suspend the ABA's ability to accredit new members for one year, finding fault with the ABA's implementation of student achievement standards among other matters.

Joe Patrice, an editor at the widely-read legal news site Above the Law, told The Ave Herald that many in the legal community have been upset with the ABA for years for its apparent unwillingness to take serious action against underperforming law schools, and the action against the Ave Maria School of Law might foreshadow a crackdown on admission policies at other schools with low bar passage rates. "Ave Maria has stumbled into the ABA crosshairs at a really awkward moment," he said. "The organization has been, in the minds of many of us, terrifyingly lax on admission standards but now they're on notice from the Department of Education that they might lose their prestigious accrediting status if they don't start showing some backbone."

The ABA directed Ave Maria Law to develop a plan to bring it into compliance and submit it by Sept. 1, and said a "fact finder" will be appointed to visit the school by Oct. 1 to review the admissions policies and practices.

"The finding of noncompliance with the standard on admissions is a disappointment but not a cause for alarm," the school's president, Kevin Cieply, said in an email statement to school staff and alumni. The law school, which is a separate institution from Ave Maria University and is located in North Naples, noted in the email that it is in full compliance with all other ABA standards governing the school's academic program, academic standards, academic support, financial resources and bar passage rates.

The school's statement also said that the incoming class shows increases in test scores and GPAs that were not available at the time the ABA council reviewed data on the law school. "We are confident that when the Committee reviews the additional information we will be submitting, including the credentials of our 1L [first-year] class, we will be found to be in full compliance," Mr. Cieply said.

The ABA's summary of its directive, and its public notice are on the association's website here

(This article was updated Aug. 13 to add comment from Mr. Patrice) 

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