If You Build it, They Will Come: What Students Say About Experiential Learning
experiential learning, law school curriculum, law school enrollment, Great Recession of 2008, professional identity formation
In the Fall of 2013, soon after the reduction in applications that many law schools experienced in 2011-13, the University of Denver’s law school lead the way nationally in making a significant additional investment in experiential learning. Starting that fall, it provided the option for all incoming students to spend one entire year of law school in experiential learning courses and programs. While this commitment was being rolled out, the authors prepared a study of the impact of the program on enrollment and the educational experience of students. A three-year study - each year surveying 1Ls - also included follow up surveys of 2Ls and 3L/4Ls, with additional “look back” questions for the 3L/4L surveys. What we learned was that applicants chose Denver Law on several traditional factors (such as cost and location) but also strongly indicated that the experiential learning component was an important part of their decision. In the 3L/4L surveys, students reflected back on their law school education, and still ranked experiential learning as very important to them, while noting the importance of other practical concerns, such as employment outcomes for graduates. Further, they indicated that many opportunities for professional formation were offered in experiential courses that they took. Finally, we noted a significant increase in overall satisfaction with their legal education, as compared to a similar question prior to the implementation of the expansion of experiential learning at Denver Law.