Vanderbilt staff discover the power of an online Master of Legal Studies degree 

When the online Master of Legal Studies program was announced in November 2022, the Law School and Office of Digital Education anticipated that the program would appeal to busy working professionals who wanted to deepen their understanding of the U.S. legal system. What they did not expect, however, was the extent to which the program would appeal close to home: to Vanderbilt’s very own staff members.

The inaugural MLS cohort exceeded enrollment expectations by welcoming a total of 14 students, eight of which are Vanderbilt employees.  

“The Law School faculty designed an incredible program, and it was our mission to realize it in an engaging, immersive virtual environment worthy of the Vanderbilt experience,” said Mallika Vinekar, founding director of the Office of Digital Education. “As our first custom online program build, it has been beneficial to have Vanderbilt peers enrolled in our first cohort—both for their professional development and for our learning.”  

The Law School agreed, and, in response, Chris Guthrie, dean and John Wade-Kent Syverud professor of law, announced the creation of a staff scholarship to encourage participation. As of August 22, 2023, Vanderbilt University staff who are eligible for the employee tuition benefit (administered by EdAssist) can use the benefit to receive 70 percent off the cost of tuition for one three-hour credit course per semester. In addition, the Law School is pleased to offer a 25 percent tuition scholarship on one three-hour credit course per term to any eligible Vanderbilt University employee enrolled—a combined benefit of 95 percent off the cost of tuition for one of the three-hour credit courses per semester.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center staff who are eligible for the employee tuition benefit can use the VUMC employee benefit (administered by EdAssist) to receive 70 percent off the cost of tuition for one three-hour credit course per semester. VUMC staff do not qualify for the additional 25 percent tuition scholarship.

Among the Vanderbilt staff to sign up was the Law School’s own Senior Executive Secretary Kirra M. Cruise-Streat, who pursued the program to enhance her ability to navigate legal language, principles and research that she encounters. 

“The flexibility of the online program has enabled me to earn a degree while maintaining my full-time employment,” Cruise-Streat said. “I do have a family, and the program enables me to maintain balance while flourishing in my role at the Law School.” 

Across campus in the Undergraduate Admissions Office, Admissions Counselor Lawson Montgomery enrolled in the MLS program to develop a sense of nuance and empowerment around the legal issues and regulations his office navigates daily.  

“Immediately after beginning the program, I found myself analyzing current legal cases in the news cycle,” Montgomery said. “I felt empowered to discuss these matters with others and understand to a greater level the cases impacting my career field and beyond.”  

Montgomery encourages fellow staff members to “look at the opportunities that are here at Vanderbilt. [The MLS program] is something that allows you to not only complete your role as a Vanderbilt employee, but also … enhance your education.” 

Applications for the second cohort close on April 24. The Law School is still offering eligible Vanderbilt staff the 25 percent scholarship, in addition to existing tuition benefits.  

“I encourage any member of our community who engages with legal issues to apply for the Master of Legal Studies program,” Guthrie said. “This program was designed for you, and the Law School is pleased to offer this scholarship as an incentive to join us.”  

To learn more and apply, please visit the Master of Legal Studies website.