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N.C. attorney general deals deathblow to limping law school

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein on Tuesday informed the U.S. Department of Education that Charlotte School of Law is no longer licensed to operate in the state and must close or face legal action.

The announcement arrives nearly a year after the department barred the for-profit college from receiving federal loans and grants for misleading students about their chances of passing the bar and its shaky accreditation with the American Bar Association.

Since then, the school has fought to keep its doors open through negotiations with the department. Things were looking up after the Trump administration said earlier this year that it would restore the law school’s access to federal student aid with conditions, but Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said the school is now ineligible without license.

Charlotte School of Law, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment, can still apply for a new license through the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the state’s higher-education regulator. The board had voted in June to approve a restricted license that required the school to regain access to federal student aid by Aug. 10. The law school asked for additional time to comply, but once the date passed the license expired.

“While good lawyers have graduated from Charlotte School of Law, the school too often failed to deliver for its students,” Stein said in an email. “Charlotte School of Law told students they would be ready to practice upon graduation, but fewer than one in five incoming students of the Class of 2016 graduated, passed the bar, and got a job that required the degree for which they spent more than $100,000.”

After an on-site evaluation in 2015, the bar association raised concerns about Charlotte School of Law, a for-profit college founded in 2004. Examiners said the school’s curriculum failed to prepare students to take the bar and that the administration admitted people incapable of completing the program. After months of hearings and requests for more information, the bar last summer said the law school was not living up to the standards necessary for accreditation.

Half of the 354 first-year students at the school dropped out of the program last year, compared with 45 percent the previous year, according to the Education Department. Of the 174 who left, more than 36 percent said it was due to academic attrition, meaning that they were not in good academic standing. The bar association said that of the 208 law schools it accredits, Charlotte School of Law has the highest number of first-year students leaving for academic reasons.

The law school appealed the bar’s decision, but the bar rejected the request and placed the school on probation in November, which ultimately led education officials to deny the school access to federal student aid. The Education Department also took issue with the school for falsely advertising that it was fully accredited, had a rigorous curriculum and that its students had an above-average rate of passing the bar.

Charlotte School of Law is the first law school in recent years to be kicked out of the federal student-aid program. Without access to federal aid, a source of tremendous revenue for colleges and universities, the vast majority of schools shut down.

The impending closure of the law school means that students now enrolled will have the right to forgiveness of their federal student loans. What’s known as closed-school loan forgiveness, however, will negate the credits they earned. Students can still apply to have their federal loans discharged by filing a borrower defense to repayment claim, which wipes away federal education debt in cases of fraud. This option would give students who choose to transfer their credits a path to loan forgiveness, though the bar for approval is set pretty high.

Education spokeswoman Hill said, “The department is committed to ensuring that students of CSL, who are the ones most impacted by any decision regarding CSL’s status, are protected and treated fairly.”