Pepperdine, 2U partner to offer online master's programs

By Nicholas Gueguen | Feb 3, 2017

MALIBU -- Pepperdine University and 2U, Inc., have partnered to offer online degree programs in legal studies and psychology.

MALIBU -- Pepperdine University and 2U, Inc., have partnered to offer online degree programs in legal studies and psychology.

The organizations have formed a master's of legal studies program, which will be offered under the name Law@Pepperdine, and a set of psychology master's degrees that will be offered under the name Psychology@Pepperdine.

"If you sort of follow legal education all over the country, law schools are having to downsize because not only do you have far fewer students taking the LSAT, so you have far fewer students pursuing the traditional J.D.," Rick Marrs, Pepperdine's provost and chief academic officer, told the Northern California Record. "You also have the scores have been dropping. And so, it's a smaller pool."

The American Bar Association's Standard 509 Information Report Data Overview shows that in fall 2016, American Bar Association-approved law schools had 124,628 students enrolled compared to 126,986 in fall 2015. Of those students, 110,951 enrolled in juris doctorate studies in fall 2016 across the 204 American Bar Association-approved schools, a drop from 113,900 juris doctorate enrollees in fall 2015.

The university's 2016 Standard 509 Information Report shows that although Pepperdine had 252 fewer law school applicants in 2016  at 2,375 than 2015 at 2,627, the school had seven more matriculants in 2016: 206 compared to 199 in 2015.

Marrs wanted to find a way to answer the challenge of offsetting revenue losses from downsizing the juris doctorate enrollment.

"And so, looking and trying to be creative, one of the things we began to look at was, well, what about non-traditional things that people might be interested in, but not the traditional J.D.," Marrs said. "And one that keeps popping up is the master's in legal studies."

The 2016 American Bar Association Standard 509 Information Data Overview shows the number of non-juris doctorate enrollees increased by 591 students to 13,677 in 2016 from 13,086 in 2015.

"There are a number of people who don't really want to become a lawyer, but they want to have some expertise in the legal aspects," Marrs said. "And then, a master's in dispute resolution. So we were already looking at those in kind of traditional ways. And 2U contacted us, wanting to know if we would talk with them about online programming, and that immediately came up."

Andrew Hermalyn, 2U executive vice president of strategic partnerships, said that Pepperdine stood out as a solid partner.

"2U partners with top universities to build what we believe are the world's best online degree programs," Hermalyn said. "And we do it with an incredible group of partners who are exceptional leaders in higher ed., and Pepperdine is one of them. It takes the will and strong leadership at a university to go online and to develop programs online, and Pepperdine is the perfect partner for that."

Marrs likes what 2U had to offer for Pepperdine in working with the university.

"They look at programs that you have that are really considered top-flight and try to think in terms of, 'Could you deliver that in a top-flight way online?'" Marrs said. "It's a nice partnership. ... They really look at and target what they consider top-tier or universities with really good academic reputations to see if they can partner with them. So they're not partnering with just any and every school."

Marrs feels the services 2U offers in helping to start up the online degree programs really benefit Pepperdine.

"One of the challenges, we learned in doing our research is that I guess the way I describe it would be you either go with a company that's sort of bundled or unbundled," Marrs said. "And bundled would be 2U, where they provide virtually all the services except for the academic side. So they are very much involved and provide marketing, recruiting, those kinds of things, whereas a lot of online companies, they do one piece of it, but then you'd have to pick up other vendors to do other parts or you'd have to hire the people yourself."

Hermalyn said 2U focuses on letting the schools it partners with focus on academics.

"Every single academic function is entirely controlled by Pepperdine," Hermalyn said. "So it's their faculty. They're handling admissions, they're granting the degree. 2U provides a variety of services that allow Pepperdine to do the things I just mentioned, to focus on the things that they care most about, which is delivering excellent content and delivering excellent courses and doing that to the highest-quality student base and at the end of the day granting the degree."

Hermalyn said that 2U's involvement does not affect what its partner universities offer and expect from their students.

"In our online partner programs, it's the same admission standards as on campus," he said. "It's the same tuition, it's the same faculty developing the courses, and it's the same degree. There's no 'e' or 'i' on the end of these degrees. And so, if you look at it, what we are doing is we at 2U are funding the programs. We are helping build great, high-quality content, we are providing the technology platform, we are handling student recruitment. So our job is to not just find any student but find the right student for Pepperdine."

Hermalyn said that when 2U funds the programs, the company clears Pepperdine of the financial risks that come with starting the programs. The cost is for the services 2U provides.

Marrs said 2U contacted Pepperdine asking whether the school had interest in online services. Hermalyn approximated that 2U and Pepperdine began meeting in July.

"The process was meeting very frequently with both the university leadership and with the school leadership, both at the school of law and at their graduate school of education and psychology," Hermalyn said. "And spending a great deal of time with faculty to both educate them about our model at 2U and what it takes to develop a program online and what it takes to develop courses. And so it really becomes a very collaborative, high-touch process."

Marrs thinks this master's of legal studies will help meet a demand in the legal industry.

"One of the reasons why law schools have been downsizing is that you have fewer law firms and big-time law firms, especially, out there that are hiring J.D.s," Marrs said. "And you're finding the other dynamic that's balancing that is the number of corporations that are hiring lawyers or people with legal expertise. Rather than having a law firm on retainer, they simply have their own general counsel or they have people within their company, and they're finding that's more cost-efficient."

Danny DeWalt, the associate dean for administration and leadership development and director of the Parris Institute for Professional Formation within Pepperdine's School of Law, said the master's of legal studies program will help students further their careers.

"They're going to develop thinking skills and writing skills that would allow them to have a much deeper understanding within whichever field they might be operating," DeWalt said. "A deeper understanding of how to work with lawyers and of how the legal process works. They're going to get, essentially, a foundation."

DeWalt said that this degree will help people combine knowledge and experience of their career field with the legal industry and working with lawyers and the court system.

"So if it's a person who already has a career in another field and isn't looking to be a lawyer, this is a great option to get some really good skills and background," he said.

DeWalt said that students in the program will study many of the same subjects that juris doctorate students study, just not as in-depth as J.D. students do.

"The MLS is going to be a truncated version but lay a foundation so it can be done in less time and with sort of less application, effort, by the student, to have to take an LSAT or something like that," DeWalt said. "So that they can get a really good glimpse inside the legal field without having to go through all the hoops that a J.D. student would have to do just to get in, and then, also, the academic rigors associated with the J.D. degree."

Marrs hopes that the companies will do well enough with the master's of legal studies program to eventually develop a master's in dispute resolution or add an emphasis in dispute resolution.

DeWalt would like to see a concentration in dispute resolution added to the new master's program by the third or fourth term of its existence.

"The MLS will include courses in dispute resolution, which is also a critical skill," DeWalt said. "Most cases settle. ... We're launching in August, so we're going to start with the required courses first, in the first and second terms. It's a four-term program, and so, it takes 16 months to get through. ... In the next couple of months, I'm sure we'll have decided what our concentration's going to be because we'll have to start designing courses for the spring and the summer of 2018."

DeWalt said the dispute resolution courses that master's of legal studies students will take are the same that J.D. students take.

"They're going to get the opportunity to practice and learn how to resolve disputes and what alternative dispute-resolution options are available," he said. "And that's something that is unique to Pepperdine, certainly in the quality of what we offer."

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