WMU and WMU-Cooley Affiliation

WMU and WMU-Cooley Affiliation

affiliation and Degree Partnership

WMU Affiliation

The 2014 affiliation between Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School resulted in the Law School’s changing its name to Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. In affiliating formally, the two schools deepened a decade-old relationship, resulting in a unique opportunity to improve their educational and service programs. Click here to view the affiliation agreement. After receiving favorable reviews by their respective accrediting and licensing agencies, WMU-Cooley and WMU signed a memorandum of understanding that has already enabled 160 new initiatives.

In 2016, the schools signed a series of agreements that continue the expansion of legal education in west Michigan and allow law classes to be offered on WMU’s main campus in Kalamazoo. These agreements cover student and employee services, benefits and privileges; facilities use; courses and programs; and campus parking. The affiliation formally links the private law school and public university, but allows both to retain their governance and fiduciary independence. Below are opportunities and questions on the affiliation. 

New opportunities contemplated by the agreements include:

  • Accelerated programs that will allow WMU students to complete both an undergraduate and law degree in a time frame shorter than the traditional seven years--saving the students time and tuition dollars;
  • Cross-listing of courses that will allow WMU graduate students to take law classes and law students to take graduate courses, with each earning credits toward their respective degree programs;
  • Dual courses that will be team-taught by faculty at both schools; and
  • WMU courses offered at the Law School's campuses.Questions and Answers about the Affiliation:

What is the affiliation?

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley School is the name Thomas M. Cooley School took following its formal naming affiliation with Western Michigan University in 2014. WMU-Cooley is one of the nation's five largest law schools, with locations in Michigan and Florida. It offers Juris Doctor (J.D.) and advanced Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees. WMU is a top-tier public research university with an enrollment of 25,000, seven regional locations, and more than 250 degree programs. Both schools have a tradition of accessibility and a commitment to serving diverse populations that will be enhanced through the partnership. Under the affiliation, both schools retain their independence, governance structure, and separate fiduciary responsibilities. The Law School continues as an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

The affiliation became effective upon review and authorization by the schools' accrediting agencies, the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The affiliation has also been approved by the Florida Commission on Independent Education.

Will either institution change its corporate structure or governance?

This is an affiliation between the Law School and WMU, not a merger of them. It does not change the governance of either institution by its respective board. The institutions remain autonomous. WMU-Cooley is not a public or taxpayer-supported institution. WMU likewise remains a Michigan constitutional public corporate body.

What are the financial ramifications of the affiliation for students or the taxpayers?

The affiliation will not involve an exchange of funds or financial support, although as the relationship builds the institutions might enter into subsequent agreements, for example the agreements relating to the use of the other's facilities.

No taxpayer dollars will be expended beyond incidental expense.

No change in the tuition rate is contemplated as a result of the affiliation. Law students will continue to attend a private, non-profit law school.

Does the affiliation apply to all of WMU-Cooley's campuses?

Yes, the affiliation includes all of the Law School’s campuses.

When did the affiliation become effective, and how long will it last?

The affiliation became effective upon the review and authorization of the accrediting agencies. The affiliation's term is 10 years.

The presidents of the schools will jointly review the affiliation annually. The term will automatically extend for one year following each annual review unless the presidents take action to change the term of the affiliation.

The affiliation can be terminated by either school with three years' written notice to the other school's president and board chair, and with shorter notice for certain specified causes

Why have the institutions affiliated?

WMU-Cooley and WMU have for years shared three formal academic programs (shared J.D.-M.B.A., J.D.-M.P.A., and J.D.-M.S.W. degree programs) and were informal partners for 15 years. The two institutions also share a deep commitment to access, practical education, and community service. Through this affiliation, they intend to develop the nation's most comprehensive integration of law and other disciplines, as well as to integrate many current programs, projects, and services currently operated separately by each school.

ABA Standard 209 encourages independent law schools like WMU-Cooley to provide the benefits of being part of a university by developing working relationships with other educational institutions. The affiliation serves this purpose well while enhancing WMU-Cooley's reputation as the nation's leading practice-oriented law school.

The affiliation likewise expands opportunities for WMU students and enhances WMU's status as a nationally-ranked, comprehensive, research university. Already a top-100 public university, WMU has now become one of less than 90 public universities in the nation affiliated with both a medical school and a law school.

What previous associations have the two schools had?

Formal ties between the Law School and WMU have been strong for more than a decade. The following is a list of some of the highlights.

  • 2002—The Law School and WMU launched a partnership that brought a law school to Grand Rapids for the first time when they announced plans to open a WMU-Cooley branch campus in conjunction with WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown in the Arena District. WMU completed a $1.6 million build out of one floor of its Graduate Center to meet the Law School's needs. In 2005, the Law School moved to its own facility near the WMU Graduate Center.
  • 2002—The Law School and WMU started a joint J.D./M.P.A. (master of public administration) degree program.
  • 2008—The Law School and WMU began a joint J.D./M.B.A. (master of business administration) degree program.
  • 2011—The Law School and WMU launched their third dual-degree partnership, providing West Michigan with its first-ever J.D./M.S.W. (master of social work) degree program.

What are some of the benefits to the schools and their students?

The affiliation enhances the breadth of academic life at both institutions, providing great benefit to the students and faculties of each school. The schools envision:

  • Expanded shared degree programs
  • An accelerated program by which students will be able to obtain both an undergraduate and law degree in a shortened time at reduced cost
  • Improved student services
  • Shared research and teaching projects
  • Enhanced clinical and externship opportunities,
  • Stronger symposia, academic conferences, and speaker programs
  • Broader student activities
  • WMU is now affiliated with one of only 206 J.D. degree-conferring, ABA-accredited law schools. Of the 181 university-related accredited law schools, 82 are part of public universities. Affiliating with one of America's largest law schools further elevates the status of WMU among the nation's leading universities. 
  • WMU-Cooley, currently one of 21 independent, ABA-accredited law schools, is now affiliated with one of a select group of public universities in the nation that are identified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as “Doctoral Universities: Higher Research Activity."
  • The schools will coordinate WMU's Center for the Study of Ethics in Society with the Law School’s award-winning Professionalism Program and that program's concepts, including programs on principled administration for university leadership.
  • The students will benefit from access to a widely dispersed and highly successful alumni body of more than 250,000 WMU graduates and nearly 20,000 Law School graduates located in every state of the nation and in many foreign countries.

How is the affiliation a good match?

  • The schools share overlapping missions and goals, including graduating students who possess requisite knowledge, master appropriate practical skills, and understand and embrace professionalism and ethics.
  • Both schools are deeply committed to providing access to education and improving diversity within their educational programs and the society into which their students graduate. WMU's commitment to diversity is enhanced by WMU-Cooley's initiatives and programs. WMU-Cooley enrolls more minority students than any other law school in the nation.
  • Similarly, WMU enrolls a large minority population, which aids the Law School’s efforts to provide under-represented groups with access to the legal profession.

Will there be a law school building on WMU's main campus?

Beginning September 2016, the Law School began offering first-term law classes on WMU's main campus in Kalamazaoo.

Will WMU-Cooley students become WMU students?

Law School students will attend class and graduate from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The schools maintain separate educational programs. Except for students admitted to the shared-degree programs, Law School students are not admitted separately to WMU. 

Will WMU-Cooley employees become WMU employees and vice versa?

Employees of each institution continue in their respective employ, although WMU-Cooley employees work for what is now known as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

How should Law School alumni refer to their school on resumes and for other purposes? Can alumni obtain updated diplomas?

Alumni may now, if they wish, refer to the Law School as Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Sometimes context will warrant using one name over the other. We are currently using WMU-Cooley Law School or WMU-Cooley as a shorthand version of our name.

Alumni may also, if they wish, obtain an updated diploma through the alumni resource page of the website at cooley.edu/alumni/alumni-resources. The cost is $60 ($50 for current members of the Alumni Association) plus shipping.  Click here for information about the Alumni Association.

Will the name for Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing change?

There are no current plans to change the name of Cooley Law School Stadium.

Whom do I contact for more information about the affiliation?

Paul Zelenski 
Senior Vice President and Associate Dean of Enrollment and Student Services
[email protected]

Degree Partnership Overview

Now you can earn a J.D. degree plus a master's degree at WMU-Cooley Law School and Western Michigan University.  


  • Apply to a J.D. program and a partnership school of choice
  • Completion of minimum number of credits in initial program before starting second one
  • Reservation of 6 elective credits in both programs for eventual transfer
  • Completion of degree requirements in both programs; two degrees earned


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Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School is an independent, private, non-profit educational institution affiliated with Western Michigan University. As an independent institution, the Law School is solely responsible for its academic program. Accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. In corde hominum est anima legis.

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