Law Schools and Economic Development

The Roanoke Times has published an upbeat article about the positive impact of the Appalachian School of Law and the University of Appalachia, which trains pharmacists, on the economy of Grundy, a town in the heart of Virginia’s coalfields.

I published a column three yeasr back questioning the wisdom of a poor community like Buchanan County investing its resources in a law school. (See “Law Schools and Baseball Stadiums.”) Did the state of Virginia, home to more than its fair share of law schools, really need another one? Couldn’t the citizens of Southwest Virginia think of a more useful educational discipline to support?

I still think I was asking legitimate questions back then, but I’m coming around. The pharmacy school in particular seems like a good idea for a region — not just Buchanan County but most of central Appalachia — that is underserved by medical professionals, including pharmacists.

The two schools capture economic activity that otherwise would take place outside the region. Ambitious young Southwest Virginians pursuing an education in law or pharmacy would head to Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, or wherever, taking their expenditures on tuition, room and board with them. With an educational option in Grundy, these students add to the local economic base, supporting not only the salaries of faculty and administrators but local retailers and landlords. Furthermore, unlike the coal industry, which is enjoying a resurgence right now after a 25-year depression, educational institutions aren’t prone to booms and busts.

The Martinsville-Henry County region in Southside Virginia wants to accomplish something similar through the creation of a new college there. Given the experience so far in Grundy, it’s probably a good idea.


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