August 31, 2022
Recent amendments to American Bar Association accreditation standards addressed definitions of distance education, but Leo Martinez, immediate past chair of the ABA Council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, says the resolution won’t change much for law schools without waivers allowing them to conduct extra distance education.
The changes, made at the ABA’s annual meeting in August, were meant to clarify language in accreditation standards.
The ABA, which serves as the accreditor for 199 law schools and programs, requires waivers for institutions that want to offer more than one-third of J.D. program credits online. But it remains interested in reviewing distance education.
The ABA has worked to broadly review its accreditation standards, said Martinez, who is also professor of law emeritus at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. The recent resolution was an attempt to clean up language and definitions in standards related to distance education, not to institute wide-ranging changes, he said.
“It became clear during the pandemic that what we consider distance education varied somewhat among the schools, so one of our tasks was to clarify exactly what we mean,” he said. “We want some precision as to what the school and we consider distance education.”
The resolution changed the definition of a distance education course to one in which students are separated from all faculty members for more than a third of instruction, removing previous language that specified students need to be separated from faculty or each other. That means the enrollment of a single remote student will not convert an entire class to a distance education course in the accreditor’s eyes.