BUCHANAN COUNTY, Va. - New students at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy is a sign of a growing economy in southwest Virginia.
The school has seen a nearly 40 percent increase in its overall student population this year with a total enrollment of 132. This year's incoming class brought in 69 first-year law students.
"Our entering class of 1L students was approximately 86 percent larger than our 1L class of Fall 2016," ASL Dean Sandy McGlothlin said.
The small school has struggled the past several years with enrollment decline.
"The Appalachian School of Law, as well as other law schools across the country, suffered from a decrease in enrollment. As a result, there were a number of law schools that have gone out of business," Virginia State Delegate Will Morefield said. Morefield represents Virginia's 3rd House District. He also serves as a consultant to the college for admissions and development.
The uptick in admissions to the college has a direct impact on local communities. The college's mission is to benefit economic development, so there is no housing or food services located on campus.
McGlothlin said, "Those services are left to be provided by the public, by citizens in the community. There again with the economic growth of the county and the region as a whole."
Morefield told News 5 this is an example of higher education promoting the diversification of resources in a county that has historically relied on coal mining. "If you look at Buchanan County as opposed to some of these other dying jurisdictions, Buchanan County is setting a precedent."
Based upon a recent study, 60 percent of the school's graduates over the past six years who are practice law have stayed to use their degree in the region.
"Our students are not coming to law school with the intention of getting a job with a big firm on Wall Street, but instead our students are going back to Main Street in their hometowns or small communities in the Appalachian region," McGlothlin said.