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Regents add $400 fee per semester to prepare USD law school students

Students at the University of South Dakota law school in Vermillion face an additional $2,400 in fees starting this fall.

The fee of $400 per semester would pay for a training program that helps students prepare for the State Bar of South Dakota exam.

The $2,400 reflects the total for three years at the law school.

Students could receive a refund if they ultimately decide to opt out of the BARBRI training or choose a different approach.

The state Board of Regents made the decision Wednesday to add the fee, while meeting at South Dakota State University in Brookings.

USD President Jim Abbott said the $2,400 would save at least $1,000 apiece for most law students. He said the list price for BARBRI's preparation course is $3,495.

A report provided beforehand to the regents described the Dallas, Texas-based organization as "the leading market provider for bar preparation instruction."

Abbott said making the fee mandatory would also make it eligible to be covered by student loans.

Regent Kevin Schieffer, of Sioux Falls, spoke against it.

"I struggle a little bit with making it a mandatory thing," Schieffer, a lawyer, said.

Abbott countered that law-school application rates are down 40 percent nationally and USD has raised its requirement for law-school entrance.

Schieffer in turn said he wouldn't be bothered if the fee wasn't across the board. He acknowledged, "I can see how that would be very difficult to administer."

Regent Harvey Jewett, of Aberdeen, said "the vast, vast majority" of law school graduates from USD takes the bar exam.

"They're intending to practice law," Jewett, a lawyer, said.

Regent Pam Roberts, of Pierre, said that, as a mother, she liked the point made by Abbott about student-loan eligibility.

"I appreciate that," Roberts said.