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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Sep. 23, 202110:52 AM EST

Florida Coastal students rank below state average in Bar passage

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In the July exam, 53.3% of graduates passed, compared with 71.6% for all Florida law schools.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

In the first Florida Bar exam since Florida Coastal School of Law lost its eligibility for federal student loans, eight of its 15 graduates who took the test passed.

That 53.3% pass rate trails the 71.6% average for graduates of all Florida law schools.

In August, Florida Coastal canceled admissions for the fall term and suspended classes. Under a teach-out plan approved by the American Bar Association in June, FCSL’s students are transferring to other law schools to complete their degrees.

The Department of Education terminated Florida Coastal’s eligibility for the Title IV program in March after the department notified the school that it failed to meet financial responsibility, fiduciary and other standards required for participation in federal student loan programs.

In April, Florida Coastal applied for reinstatement but was denied.

The cost of tuition, fees and books at Florida Coastal was about $42,000 a year for its traditional three-year program, according to the school’s website, which is active but indicates that it is not enrolling students.

The school filed a lawsuit in July against the Department of Education that alleged the department exceeded and abused its authority and acted arbitrarily and without due process in terminating Florida Coastal’s Program Participation Agreement in the student loan program.

In August, a federal judge in Jacksonville denied Florida Coastal’s emergency motion for a restraining order that would temporarily have restored the school’s access to the Title IV program.

The lawsuit remains open in the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. 

The teach-out plan memo from the ABA states that Florida Coastal’s accreditation will continue until July 1, 2023, for the limited purpose of allowing the school to receive credits from currently enrolled students earned as transient students at other ABA-approved law schools and to issue a Florida Coastal J.D. degree to such students who meet the school’s graduation requirements.

The ABA retains authority to remove Florida Coastal’s accreditation earlier than July 1, 2023, if the school’s state license to issue a J.D. degree is withdrawn or terminated, or if the school fails to uphold any of the obligations it agreed to in the teach-out plan. 

At Florida Coastal, ABA scrutiny began in February 2017 when only 25% of its graduates passed the Florida Bar exam. 

The ABA conducted a 27-month investigation into whether Florida Coastal was meeting accreditation standards for admission requirements and curriculum.

That investigation ended in February 2020 when the ABA found the school in compliance with standards that ensure that law schools are financially sound, a requirement for accreditation.

The student loan program denial was the final in a series of events that began 17 years when Florida Coastal became part of the InfiLaw consortium of for-profit law schools.

Sterling Capital, a private equity firm based in Naples, Florida, purchased Florida Coastal in 2004 and at the same time established the InfiLaw System.

InfiLaw then founded the Phoenix School of Law, later renamed Arizona Summit School of Law, in 2004 and the Charlotte School of Law in 2006.

All three schools had issues with the ABA and Department of Education related to admission standards, below-average Bar exam passage rates and high levels of student debt held by graduates combined with below-average employment in the Bar percentages and income levels.

The ABA put Arizona Summit on probation for violating ABA academic and admission standards in March 2016. The school began a teach-out plan when its accreditation was withdrawn in July 2018. It closed in May 2020.

Charlotte School of Law was placed on probation in November 2016 for violating admissions standards required for ABA accreditation. The Federal Student Aid office terminated it from the student loan program a month later.

Charlotte School of Law closed in August 2017.

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