Sky-high tuition, First Nations accessibility highlighted in review of TRU law school

TRU law battles high tuition

Thompson Rivers University's law school is searching for ways to lower tuition and improve accessibility for First Nations students — two of the issues raised in an external review of the program.

Reviewers from other law schools across Canada visited the campus in April of last year. Their report was made public last week.

TRU's law school has since made efforts to improve in areas where reviewers found the program falls short.

Dr. Daleen Millard, Dean of Law at TRU, said that she was “very pleased” with the outcome of the review and has been happy to get projects moving forward since.

“I was excited, because it's the first time that we've had a review of our programs — we've only been around for 11 years,” said Millard.

“This was our first opportunity to have a deep dive and to look at where we can improve, that’s terrific. I think, to me, it's always exciting to see people bring wonderful ideas and ask questions.”

The reviewers noted that the program lacked financial aid for students who can’t afford the high tuition costs at TRU compared to other law programs in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada.

Tuition for a first-year student at TRU’s Law program is estimated to cost $10,444.28 for a domestic student over a single semester.

Comparatively, the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria’s law programs were estimated to be $13,680.32 and $10,790, respectively, for two semesters — close to half the cost.

Reviewers recommended the program open a renewed dialogue with the province regarding the funding formula that would put TRU law students on an equal footing with those at other B.C. law schools.

As it stands, Millard said, the program’s tuition model has already been established with the province.

“The faculty was set up because of this specific process that was sort of agreed with the provincial government,” said Millard.

“So it is not as though we could override that in any way and just strike out and do something strange.”

The review also said some individuals interviewed said the law school was unable to recruit or retain Indigenous students despite the program and the university as a whole identifying building relationships with the First Nations community as a key priority.

While the reviewers acknowledged this problem wasn’t unique to TRU, they said the university’s expensive tuition might be exacerbating the problem.

Millard said the program has launched an initiative to help bring more Indigenous law students to TRU.

“There's a wonderful initiative that we've launched — the Future Indigenous Lawyers initiative — and we've had wonderful cooperation from donors who feel very passionately about removing all obstacles for Indigenous students to enter law school and to be successful,” she said.

“So we not only give scholarships to students coming in, but we also tried to identify any other barriers that they might experience during their time with us.”

Millard said the program has started raising money to help lower tuition for students.

“We are embarking on a fundraising exercise to create endowments where we can actually grow from the fund to apply it across the board and lower tuition for students over time,” she said.

“It's not something that's going to happen in a day. One has to start somewhere.”

TRU’s law program is still in its infancy, having welcomed its first students in 2011. That short history puts it at a disadvantage when compared to other schools, Millard said.

“I’m specifically thinking of Toronto. Those universities are a lot older than TRU,” she said.

“They have very high tuition, it's not what the students say because of these old endowments, and bursaries, and all sorts of things have been available and maintained over years and years and years.”

While reviewers left a dozen recommendations for the law program to consider, they did conclude that the young program has garnered a positive reputation.

“Our key finding is that the law program meets the standards expected of Canadian law faculties, with a significant emphasis on practice readiness,” the report read.

“As one of the youngest law faculties in Canada, TRU Law has established itself as a viable law program with a reputation among employers for graduating students who are well prepared for their entry into the practice of law.”

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