As Arizona State University considers moving its law school from Tempe to downtown Phoenix, ASU officials say that for the plan to be financially feasible they would have to significantly increase law-school enrollment, raise tuition, enhance quality and launch a series of master's-degree programs.
ASU President Michael Crow said officials are weighing whether a new, downtown Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law would make financial sense. Crow said the university will move forward only if officials have a "high confidence" the project will succeed. "Otherwise, we're not going to do it," Crow said Wednesday.
As ASU contemplates raising law-school enrollment, many schools are moving in the opposite direction, shrinking incoming classes as the economy has made it difficult for law-school graduates to get jobs and repay student loans.
As a planning step, ASU officials today will ask the Arizona Board of Regents to approve a three-year capital-improvement plan that includes $129 million toward construction of a 294,000-square-foot law school in downtown Phoenix. The complex would be built on a parking lot that formerly was the site of a Ramada Inn, at Taylor and First streets.
"This is essentially one step in a multistep review-and-approval process," said Lorenzo Martinez, the regents' associate vice president for finance and administration.
No timetable has been set, although the plan presented to regents outlines five proposed ASU projects for fiscal 2014, including the law school. Other projects include renovating Hayden Library, upgrading labs and other improvements.
Even if the regents OK the plan, university officials could decide to postpone or cancel the project. Once construction began on the law school, it would likely take 30 months to complete, said Rich Stanley, ASU senior vice president and university planner. The move would put the law school in the heart of the legal community, because federal and county courts and many big law firms are downtown.
"There are a lot of benefits to our students being nearer that action," Stanley said.
In documents being presented to regents, ASU said the goal is to increase law-school enrollment and degrees by 50 percent. The Tempe campus cannot accommodate that growth, the report says. The law school's current enrollment is between 650 and 700 students and its space on the Tempe campus is about 165,000 square feet.
Proposed plans for the school include classrooms, an auditorium, offices, a 230-space parking structure, a law library and retail space. ASU also wants to host more continuing-education programs for attorneys.
In an e-mail to The Arizona Republic, law-school Dean Douglas Sylvester said the college has "no current plans to grow our J.D. (Juris Doctor) class beyond its historical size and beyond the capacity of the college to continue to find productive employment for all of our graduates."
In recent years, ASU's law school has raised its national profile, climbing in annual college rankings such as U.S. News & World Report. A few years ago, the school was in the 55th spot among law schools nationwide. The most recent list ranks ASU 26th, which is 14 spots higher than the previous year. Among public law schools, ASU is ranked eighth in the annual survey.
ASU also is moving to make the law school financially self-sufficient so that it doesn't rely on state funding, a shift that has led to higher tuition. The idea is that state money previously spent on the law school will go to other university programs.
A handful of business and law schools at other public universities have already gone this route. The move has been controversial at ASU, with some students complaining about tuition costs rising each year.