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J.D. Part-Time / Online Introduction

South Texas College of Law Houston Offers Working Professionals an Online Schedule to Earn an ABA-accredited J.D. Degree, Building on Century of Innovative Legal Education

    

 

South Texas College of Law Houston will advance its 100-year reputation for academic excellence, innovation, diversity, and opportunity in fall 2023 when it supplements its traditional, on-campus full-time and part-time programs with a new part-time online schedule that will allow a cohort of students to earn an ABA-accredited J.D. degree.

WHY SOUTH TEXAS IS OFFERING AN ONLINE J.D.

“Since our founding in 1923 by some of Houston’s most influential business and legal leaders, South Texas College of Law Houston has played a significant role in educating attorneys who lead and serve across the state and the nation,” said President and Dean Michael F. Barry. “As Houston’s oldest law school, we have 100 years of experience successfully educating full-time and part-time students. We are delighted to be able to offer our exceptional part-time J.D. degree, and the South Texas experience, to students unable to attend classes on campus.”

Barry noted that, “During the pandemic, South Texas recognized that online education, when done thoughtfully, can be a potent, effective educational tool.” The South Texas faculty carefully studied various forms of pedagogy, including different methods of online delivery. They identified ways to adapt the robust capability of online learning — routinely used in MBA and other graduate programs — for legal education.

“We know that residents of East Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and other parts of the state find it difficult to obtain a law degree — particularly if they are employed full-time or have family and community commitments,” Barry said. “That leads to a dearth of legal representation in those parts of the state, exacerbating access-to-justice concerns. We thoughtfully designed this online schedule to expand access to a high-quality, rigorous legal education for those who can’t relocate to Houston. South Texas’s mission emphasizes diversity and access to legal education, and this online schedule will allow the law school to fulfill its mission more fully.”

The new online schedule places South Texas at the vanguard of changes occurring in law schools across the country after the pandemic.

ONE EXCEPTIONAL J.D. DEGREE. THREE CONVENIENT SCHEDULES.

Students entering law school at South Texas in fall 2023 will have three paths to obtain a J.D. degree:

  • a J.D. Full-time / Campus schedule (on campus, during the day);
  • a J.D. Part-time / Campus schedule (on campus, four evenings per week);
  • the new J.D. Part-time / Online schedule.

For all three programs, South Texas will require students to meet exacting admissions criteria. And just like students in the traditional, on-campus programs, online students will be expected to meet rigorous academic and professional standards. Online students also will have access to South Texas’s renowned faculty, student support, and co-curricular and extracurricular organizations and activities.

“Our goal,” Barry said, “is to provide all students with a rigorous and successful legal education — whether they come to campus full-time or part-time, or whether they take their classes remotely.”

Online courses will incorporate a variety of teaching methods to maximize learning and engagement. Much of the education will be conducted “synchronously” – that is, in a setting where students are engaging directly with faculty members and other students. Other components will use “asynchronous” methods, which allow students increased flexibility as to when to complete the work required to meet course deadlines and expectations.

The J.D. Part-time / Online is designed to be a limited program open to a relatively small number of part-time students unable to attend classes in person at South Texas’s campus in downtown Houston. To ensure that students participating in the J.D. Part-time / Online schedule are connected to the South Texas community, they will spend time on campus at the beginning of each year of their legal education.

ONLINE J.D. SCHEDULE INCREASES ACCESS

STCL Houston Board Chair Genora Boykins ’85 is delighted the law school will soon offer the option to earn an ABA-accredited J.D. degree online.

 

“Students from some of the most legally underserved parts of Texas and other states will be able to gain an exceptional legal education without having to move to Houston,” Boykins said. “This will lead to increased access to excellent legal services for communities with few or no attorneys, and will allow more diverse students access into the legal profession.”

 

South Texas alumni have experienced first-hand how technology and online communication have impacted the legal community. “South Texas is adapting its delivery models to reach students who have never known life without the Internet,” Associate Dean for Part-time and Online Education Derek Fincham said. “Last year, more than half of MBA graduates received their degree online. Offering an online J.D. degree is a logical next step in the evolution of legal education and legal practice.”

SOUTH TEXAS AT THE FOREFRONT OF LEGAL EDUCATION

Throughout the program, the law school will ensure students learn substantive law and theory, develop the skills and attributes necessary to succeed in the legal profession, and engage in activities that comprise the law school experience.

In order to offer the online program, South Texas submitted a thorough application to the American Bar Association (ABA) Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which accredits J.D. programs in the United States. The ABA Council carefully reviewed South Texas’s application and, in February 2022, authorized South Texas to offer the online program. In receiving approval from the ABA Council, South Texas joins a dozen law schools across the United States, including St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas, authorized to offer extended online programs.

St. Mary’s received 791 applicants for its 27 online slots this year, indicating an extremely high demand and need for an online option for legal education.

“Law school is hard work, and it should be,” Barry said. “Attorneys are vested with great authority, and it is important that lawyers be skilled, capable practitioners of great integrity. We take the responsibility to train practice-ready attorneys very seriously here at South Texas, and we have designed this online program to be as rigorous and challenging as the programs we have been offering for 99 years. We look forward to using new technologies to expand the means by which individuals can receive an exceptional South Texas legal education.”

The J.D. Part-time / Online schedule builds on a J.D. Part-time / Flex program South Texas offered in fall 2022. As part of the Flex schedule, a small cohort of law students attended class in person and on campus two nights per week, while fulfilling their remaining coursework online. The Flex program has helped inform the creation of the J.D Part-time / Online program.

“We have found that tools available in the online environment provide new and creative opportunities for student engagement,” said Fincham. “Building on the best practices in distance learning, we created innovative online courses for the Flex program in fall 2022 that included on-campus and online education. We are building on that momentum for the J.D. Part-time / Online schedule that begins next fall.”

For more information about the law school’s accredited J.D. degree and the full-time and part-time schedules available to students, contact jd-info@stcl.edu or read more at stcl.edu/explore.

Frequently Asked Questions

The J.D. Part-time / Online schedule is designed for motivated self-starters who wish to pursue a law degree through a more flexible delivery format that allows them to maintain their professional and personal responsibilities while obtaining their legal education. We expect students in the online schedule to be comfortable in an online learning environment and have access to reliable internet access for the virtual classroom and digital resources.

Yes. South Texas requires all students to meet exacting admissions criteria. Just like students in the traditional, on-campus programs, online students will be expected to meet rigorous academic and professional standards.

We anticipate our J.D. Part-time / Online students to continue working at their full- or part-time jobs during the day. Additionally, we expect they will commit the necessary time and effort during the evenings and weekends to complete classwork, including attending some regularly scheduled synchronous classes in the evening as well as participating in some daytime commitments, such as faculty office hours or school events.

  • As with any law school degree program, the J.D. Part-time / Online schedule will require significant dedication during and after class times, which will include readings, preparation, office hours, discussion board submissions and responses, and synchronous and asynchronous classes. Students should plan to commit approximately two to three hours per week outside of class for every credit hour.

 

  • Some students may periodically choose to take time off from work or daytime commitments to complete assignments or prepare for classes or exams.
  • Types of classes: Beginning in fall 2023, J.D. Part-time / Online students will take classes mostly online in​ a combination of synchronous classes (face-to-face virtual at set times) and asynchronous classes (no set class time, but with regularly assigned deadlines) each semester.

 

  • On-campus requirement: At the beginning of the fall semester each year, students will have a required in-person experience on campus in Houston (7-8 days). For the first year, this includes orientation with all students, opportunities to meet the professors teaching online courses that semester, connections with student organizations, and in-person class time. This “residency” experience will ensure that online students are familiar with and become a part of the South Texas community.

 

  • Time to completion: The part-time J.D. degree can be completed in four years.

Synchronous activities will typically be scheduled on weekday evenings and occasionally during the day on Saturdays.

STCL Houston Student Services will be available for virtual meetings and phone calls with online students, in addition to various online workshops and connection opportunities. Some of those include academic advising, financial aid and debt counseling, library services, and career services.

For all students, STCL Houston faculty are available during regular office hours, and phone or virtual conversations are quite common. Students and professors also engage through email and through the learning system messaging features. If online students sign up for co-curricular or extracurricular activities involving professors, they will have additional opportunities to make connections with faculty members.

Student organizations will offer virtual opportunities for online students to participate in various meetings and in academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities including law reviews, clinics, and advocacy. Students who are able are always welcome to come to campus for in-person participation, as well.

J.D. Part-time / Flex and J.D. Part-time / Online students may seek to transfer to the full-time, on-campus schedule after successfully completing the initial fall and spring semesters. Transfers are granted on a case-by-case basis.

Yes, J.D. Part-time / Online students are eligible to apply for the same financial aid and scholarship opportunities as all other South Texas students.

South Texas College of Law Houston offers one ABA-accredited J.D. degree, and each student’s diploma only notes that degree — regardless of whether the degree was achieved full-time or part-time, on campus or online.

 J.D. Part-Time / Online in the News

The Houston Business Journal published a great story about STCL Houston’s innovative new J.D. Part-time / Online schedule, which begins in fall 2023. Students will now have three ways to earn the law school’s ABA-accredited, rigorous J.D. degree. Read more here: https://bizj.us/1qh1vm

Reflections on J.D. Part-Time / Online Schedule at South Texas

 

JUSTICE BRETT BUSBY, Supreme Court of Texas

“I am so pleased that, once again, Texas is leading the way in providing innovative opportunities for law students to obtain an accredited J.D. degree. Texas now has two law schools that provide a rigorous course of online legal instruction. There are too many Texans who can’t pursue a legal degree because they don’t live near a law school and cannot relocate because of family or work circumstances. For these hardworking Texans, an online program makes a legal education possible — and increases access to justice for Texans across the state.”

 

State Bar of Texas President LAURA GIBSON

“I am delighted that South Texas College of Law Houston joins St. Mary’s School of Law in offering working professionals an online opportunity to obtain an ABA-accredited J.D. degree. Law students across the state and beyond will be able to experience a rigorous legal education without uprooting their families or giving up their jobs, which could particularly benefit rural areas where legal services are greatly needed. I look forward to welcoming these graduates into the legal profession.”

 

LSAC President and CEO KELLYE TESTY

“South Texas College of Law Houston adding the online option for students to earn its rigorous J.D. degree online is a positive, natural progression of innovative legal education. At the Law School Admission Council, our mission is to advance law and justice by encouraging diverse, talented individuals to study law. This program can help to open the door to the legal profession for working professionals without leaving their jobs or moving their families – which is great news for the profession.”

 

JUSTICE APRIL L. FARRIS, Texas First Court of Appeals

“Congratulations to South Texas College of Law Houston for launching an important online option for part-time students to earn an accredited J.D. degree — expanding access to a quality legal education for many working professionals who would not be able to attend law school otherwise. Having grown up in a small town, it’s exciting to see STCL leading the way in allowing suburban and rural leaders to stay rooted in their communities while they pursue their law degree.”

 

DEAN PATRICIA ROBERTS, St. Mary’s School of Law

“I’m excited that South Texas College of Law Houston is adding an innovative online option for part-time students, one that will increase access and opportunity to a legal education to those whose family, employment or geographic limitations would otherwise prevent it. Our first cohort of online JD students at St. Mary’s is demonstrating that well-designed online education can be highly effective, and I am confident that STCL Houston’s launch next fall will be equally impactful at expanding options for working professionals to obtain an exceptional legal education.”