The University of Dayton's law school has become the first in the nation to offer a five-semester program,  instead of the traditional six.
Until last year, the American Bar Association required six semesters, so the option Dayton is offering was impossible. Dayton's program, under which students can take their first semester in the summer, will make it possible for student to obtain a law degree in just two years. Students still have the option of a six-semester program.
Students in the five- and six-semester programs will need to complete the same number of credits, 90. For most students in the five-semester program, that will mean taking six courses a semester instead of five.
Lori Shaw, assistant dean for student affairs at Dayton, says that the program is designed to help "highly motivated" students who want to finish up in less time, and older students, for whom the possibility of taking three years out of the workplace "has made law school seem unattainable."
Tuition will be charged on the credit hour, so the costs of a five-semester or six-semester degree will be identical. "Our goal is not to have tuition influence a person's choice," she says.
Students will need to make a firm decision on the option by the end of their first year, and Dayton officials may counsel some students with low grades to stay in a traditional program.
Entering law classes at Dayton are typically 180. Starting with the new option, Dayton expects 200 students to start each year, 80 in the summer (most of them planning on five semesters) and 120 in the fall (most of them planning on six).
Shaw says that she has already been getting calls from other law schools that are considering similar options for their students.
John A. Sebert, a consultant on legal education to the ABA, says he has also heard that some other law schools may follow Dayton's model or try other variations on it. He says he is pleased that Dayton is offering five semesters as a choice, not as a requirement.
"I think it's good that we gave the schools flexibility, and I'm glad Dayton is doing this as an option. I think the real question is the individual student's ability to handle a consistently heavy load. Not all students can do that, but some can."