School officials hope the program will attract applicants who might not be willing to commit to three years of law school, such as students who have some work experience. Traditional programs consist of six semesters with summers off, but students in the accelerated program will shoulder two straight years of classes.
"We suspect it will be probably students who are a little bit older, who are willing to take on that extra intensity," Dennis said.
The accelerated program is also Drexel's response to diminishing enrollment numbers. Recent law school graduates have entered a dismal job market, according to national legal groups, and Drexel and Temple Universities have both had declines in law school applicants.
According to the Law School Admissions Council in Newtown, which compiles law school applicant data, applications at all law schools are down 22 percent this year from last.
Though Drexel is the first law school in the region to offer a two-year degree, accelerated programs have sprung up in Illinois, California, and Ohio law schools in recent years. Chicago's Northwestern University offers a program similar to Drexel's, which requires students to have two years of work experience to ensure they can handle the course load.
Drexel will start accepting applications for the program in May 2014. Ideally, Dennis said, the school will maintain the current class size of about 130 students, but with a quarter of them enrolled in the new program. Tuition for Drexel's law program is about $37,000 per year.
Rayman Solomon, dean and professor of law at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, said the program sounded like a good first step toward working with students on managing their debt. But he cautioned that the program might be the wrong choice for students fresh out of college.
"This is a good-faith effort at addressing the debt problem for a portion of their class," he said. "It wouldn't work for everyone."
Solomon predicted that law schools across the country will make changes aimed at helping students pay for school.
"I think there are going to be lots of ways schools will be looking at handling debt," he said.
Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.