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Spring Road Trip For Western State

Orange County’s oldest law school, Western State College of Law, is on track to get a new base of operations and a new lease on life.

A rent dispute with California State University-Fullerton for space at CSUF’s satellite campus at 1 Banting in the Irvine Spectrum was one of several challenges facing the law school the past few years, alongside the financial meltdown of Argosy University, which ran several campuses in California, including Western State.

A court-appointed federal receiver has been overseeing Western State for much of the year.

Next year promises more changes, as well as stability.

The law school now has a new, local owner: Westcliff University, about 9 miles up Barranca Parkway near the Irvine Business Complex.

Westcliff, mainly known for its MBA program, bought some of the assets of defunct Argosy University, including the law school, and plans to move Western State’s facilities up the road to its own campus.

“Westcliff is fully committed to helping Western State recover from its entanglement in the receivership and begin enrolling new students as soon as possible,” said Westcliff President and Chief Executive, Dr. Anthony Lee, in a statement.

“The law school had been successful with very experienced management, faculty and staff,” he added. “We would not have become involved except for that.”

Moving Days

The move means Western State ends six years of uncertainty over its literal place in OC—enough time to get two law degrees.

It sold one campus, a 78,000-square-foot layout, to CSUF Auxiliary Services Corp. in 2012 for $18 million—it was across the street from the university—and leased it back for $1.4 million a year expecting to stay for a while.

When CSUF needed the space, Western State moved, leasing part of a building at a 138,000-square-foot complex along Banting that ASC had bought in 2013 for $30.5 million.

Western State was part of Argosy, owned by Education Management Corp. in Pittsburgh.

EMC in 2016 paid $95 million to settle federal claims it illegally paid recruiters and misled students; similar charges helped sink former Santa Ana-based vocational education provider Corinthian College Inc.

Argosy went out of business and began to sell itself.

L.A.-based Dream Center Education Holdings LLC, an affiliate of an evangelical parachurch ministry to youth, veterans and the homeless, bought chunks of it in 2017, including an arts school and Western State.

More Turmoil

The Dream Center’s dream died earlier this year—the new owner shuttered amid allegations of keeping millions of dollars in federal student aid intended for students—and it threw Western State students into turmoil.

Westcliff bought the law school for a dollar; an Ohio federal court in August approved the deal.

Meanwhile, Western State had fallen behind on rent which, including maintenance ran $150,000 a month.

CSUF in June brought that issue to court and asked for its space—down the street from the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment Inc.—back.

The court declined.

Optimism

Western State currently doesn’t have ABA accreditation—graduates can still sit for the California Bar—and enrollment has fallen.

It had 415 students last fall as its woes began to escalate. About 100 graduated in the spring and a large portion of first and second year students transferred to other law schools.

Western State thought it would get about 200 back this year; it has 232.

“We are optimistic,” Dean Allen Easley said. “The ABA wants to make sure Westcliff University has the resources to support the law school and get it back on its feet.”

Westcliff has “provided a chance for our current students to complete their degree.”

Without the acquisition, Western State would have closed this summer, Easley told the Business Journal. Instead, he expects little to change day-to-day as the school moves.

“What Westcliff University has done is huge.”

Spring, Clean

Western State’s got the history—it’s more than 50 years old, the oldest law school in OC, and Easley said it’s graduated more local judges than any other institution—now it might have a future.

“Westcliff … made that a possibility,” he said.

Both want growth, but it will take years.

The U.S. Department of Education won’t provide federal financial aid to new students until Western State relocates. The dean said no new students this fall means a gap in rolling enrollment.

“Next year we’ll lack second-year students and the year after we’ll lack third year[s].”

The plan is to relocate by late spring, which would allow for new students in fall 2020.

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