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
“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.”