Ohio students can finish college, law degree in 6 years

BEXLEY, Ohio (AP) — Aja Miyamoto strolls into social functions now at the Capital University Law School like she’s one of the club. As a matter of fact, though Miyamoto is still a 19-year-old sophomore, she is.

Through a special program called 3-plus-3, Miyamoto will earn both her bachelor’s and law degrees in a combined six years, rather than the usual seven. During the fourth year of her undergraduate education, she’ll take first-year law school courses designed to count toward both degrees, allowing her to trim a year — and an estimated roughly $30,000 — off the two-degree sequence.

At a recent law school function, Miyamoto said, “I got to meet professors at the law school, got to know students and graduates. That really pushed me, and motivated me to see where I might go.”

That’s the idea, said Rachel Janutis, interim law school dean.

“Students who come into the 3-plus-3 program as early as their freshman year in college can start to understand what it means to be a lawyer, what it takes to be successful in law school and to build a program of education around those skills and those attributes,” Janutis said. “It helps the institution, as well, to have students who are better prepared.”

Benefits aside, Ohio effectively barred such programs until just last school year — the 50th state to get on board. All other states, and the rules of the American Bar Association, allowed 3-plus-3 graduates to take the bar.

In 2014, Ohio law schools lobbied for a change to Ohio Supreme Court rules, noting what an “extreme outlier” Ohio had become.

Joseph Alutto, then interim Ohio State University president, wrote at the time that only a strong explanation could justify leaving the rule in place that required all candidates for the bar to have completed their undergraduate education “prior to” completing their legal education.

“I see no such explanation, certainly not one rising to the level that would merit swimming against such a strong national tide,” he wrote in February 2014.

The court rule was changed and Capital was the first university to launch its program. Ohio Northern University and Cleveland State University, in partnership with Lake Erie College, also offer 3-plus-3 options. Among others signaling interest were Ohio State, the universities of Akron and Findlay and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

A handful of Capital students, including Miyamoto, joined Capital’s program in its first year, said Amy Adams, interim vice president for enrollment services. This year, 23 new students have enrolled.

Adams said the school tried to make the option attractive by building in flexibility. Participants, for example, may continue with sports and other extracurriculars during their overlap year, and they still formally graduate with their undergraduate peers.

Enrolling also doesn’t compel you to complete all six years if it’s not for you, she said.

“When we were designing the program, we wanted students to have some flexibility,” she said. “We know things happen.”

Miyamoto — who’s already landed a legal assistant job with a Capital alum — has no intention of quitting. As she begins her second year of college this fall, she said she’s grateful to be the first of her siblings to go to college — and to law school, too.

“Before this, I was more undecided on what I wanted to do, but this program has allowed me to see what life will look like after graduation,” she said. “Looking up to current attorneys and saying, ‘That’s going to be me one day’ — that’s really exciting.”

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