Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law and Birmingham-Southern College have signed a memorandum of understanding to build an accelerated degree program, in which students will earn a bachelor’s from BSC and a juris doctorate from the law school. Participating BSC students will effectively start law school in their senior year of college, saving them time and tuition.
It makes sense for both schools, said Henry “Corky” Strickland, Cumberland School of Law dean.
“We have always had a lot of Birmingham-Southern College graduates come to law school at Cumberland,” Strickland said.
Cumberland School of Law already has a similar agreement in place for undergraduate students from Samford, Troy University and the University of Montevallo.
“We began with the undergraduate school here at Samford two or three years ago,” Strickland said. “We created similar programs with Troy and Montevallo.”
Typically, a law degree requires a four-year bachelor’s degree, then three years of law school. This program allows undergraduates to take first-year law courses during their senior year as electives toward a bachelor’s degree.
“The idea is that a number of undergraduate majors have elective hours that can be filled with any number of courses,” Strickland said. “The first year of law school fills those elective hours.”
That puts a prospective law student a year ahead on getting a law degree.
“The benefit is you get through in six years, you pay less tuition and less living expenses,” Strickland said. “The most beneficial thing is graduating a year earlier, which is one more year of earning power.”
Taking advantage of the program requires advance planning. Students must arrange a schedule that saves electives for law school.
“It takes a bit of planning, since all required courses for a major must be finished by the end of one’s junior year, so that nothing’s left but electives,” Strickland said. “It took us a year or two before we had any Samford students come through it. It’s still quite new.”
It would be perfect for students coming to college who already know they plan to pursue a law degree, Strickland said.
“It’s not right for everybody,” he said. “The first year of law school is harder and more intense than undergraduate years. You have to be mature enough to do it.”
“We are so thrilled that Cumberland School of Law is committed to partnering with BSC in this way. Cumberland is a great institution, and this will give our students an opportunity to get a head start on their legal careers in a respected law school,” said BSC President Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith. “Birmingham-Southern has had a long history of preparing students for the law through the liberal arts, and this gives highly motivated students an opportunity to get the full BSC educational experience plus a law degree in just six years.”
According to the memorandum, BSC juniors will be able to apply for admission to the law program once they complete three-quarters of their undergraduate coursework. They will receive their bachelor’s degree after completing their first year of Cumberland School of Law’s J.D. program. They’ll receive their J.D. after completing their coursework at the law school.
In recent years, such accelerated programs, as they’re often called, have become more popular, but they are rarely offered by small, nationally ranked residential liberal arts colleges like BSC.
“This is a wonderful way for students who are passionate about the law to receive a broad-based education and dig down into a major they’re interested in while still following a direct pathway to the law,” said BSC Interim Provost Susan K. Hagen. “We’ve heard over the years that our faculty and our academic program’s focus on critical thinking and writing do a wonderful job of preparing graduates for law school, and this agreement offers our students a great opportunity.”
About Birmingham-Southern College: Birmingham-Southern College is a four-year, private liberal arts institution in Birmingham, Alabama, founded in 1856 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It enrolls about 1,300 students from more than 30 states and 15 foreign countries. Learn more at bsc.edu.
About Samford University: Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 4th among regional universities in the South and 3rd for a strong commitment to teaching. Samford enrolls 5,471 students from 47 states and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference. samford.edu
The story includes reporting from Hannah Wolfson, director of communications at Birmingham-Southern College, and Greg Garrison with al.com.