By Angela Greenspan

The Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary this month. Colleges of Law is the regions oldest and largest independent law school. The school prides itself in having a faculty comprised of judges and practicing attorneys who bring real-world experience into a practical learning environment. They are invested in the success of the students and share practical legal knowledge to enhance the educational experience. One significant benefit in attending Santa Barbara College of Law are the relationships made with professionals in the community. After five decades, Colleges of Law alumni include numerous distinguished members of the local legal community. Their service throughout California has helped to build the reputation of the Colleges of Law.

History of Santa Barbara College of Law

The Santa Barbara College of Law was founded in 1974 by a group of attorneys including Thomas Williams, Jr. and J.K. Herbert and was originally named the California Law Institute. The College of Law in Ventura was founded in 1969. Almost ten years later the Ventura College of Law acquired all the assets of the California Law Institute in Santa Barbara to expand because of growing enrollment. The two schools merged to become the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law in 1978. After which, Santa Barbara College of Law received provisional accreditation by the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) of the State Bar of California.

There have been nearly 2000 graduates from the Colleges of Law. Six hundred forty-nine students have graduated from Santa Barbara College of Law since 1979. Currently, the total enrollment for both campuses is 269 students. This year, there are 81 students enrolled at the Santa Barbara Campus. Tuition per semester unit in 1979 was $85. The tuition rate for the J.D. and Hybrid J.D Programs for the 2019-2020 academic year is $827 per semester unit. Today the tuition is still less than half the cost of many law schools across the country.

Advocates for a Local Law School

Among the early advocates for the Colleges of law, Benjamin Bycel was the school’s dean from 1986 to 1991. Bycel was initially involved with the Colleges of Law from in the late 1970s. He returned to the school in 1986 under a board of directors that included the Honorable Frank Ochoa, Bob Monk, and Frank Seih.

Original Santa Barbara Campus was located on the Rivera foothills by the Mission in Santa Barbara.

Benjamin Bycel, Dean 1986-1991

In an article wrote by Bycel in 1988, Why Do We Need A Local Law School in Ventura County, he argued, “The issue is equal access to the legal profession. Colleges of Law provides an opportunity for working adults to attend law school during the evening at a cost they can afford.” Bycel advocated to eliminate the prestige gap locally in Santa Barbara and Ventura to help graduates who had family and employment circumstance which did not allow them to pull up their roots and move to Los Angeles or San Francisco to attend an ABA school. During the early 1970s, law firms in Santa Barbara were reluctant to hire graduates that did not attend law school at a major university. Bycel built relationships with local firms in a community outreach effort to gain trust and help law students get jobs. He was a crusader for the law school and advocated for the students. Many outstanding deans followed. Among those are distinguished women lawyers including Heather Goergakis and the current Dean Jackie Gardina.

Prominent Women Graduates from Santa Barbara College of Law

Flash forward to today, and the list of distinguished judges and attorneys is remarkable. In Santa Barbara, recognized women alumni include Judges Colleen K. Sterne and Von T. Nguyen Deroian, and District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley, among others. One early female graduate from Santa Barbara College of Law was Betty L. Jeppesen. She enrolled in the Santa Barbara campus in 1976 and graduated in 1980. “Women in the ’70s and ’80s were not looked to for advice. Once becoming a lawyer, a light switched on, I was now credible,” said Jeppesen. In the early 1980s, a law degree became a woman’s ticket to respect in a predominantly man’s world. These women leaders have challenged the status quo by breaking through glass cleanings to bring greater diversity to the legal profession in our community.                   

Joyce Dudley as Student from the 1991 Catalog

The Future of Legal Education

An accredited nonprofit institution, Colleges of Law offers a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) program. The school is leading the charge to stay current with advancements in technology in the 21st Century. Starting in Fall 2018, Colleges of Law became the first accredited law school in California to offer a hybrid J.D. degree. The school is making waves as it is allowing more people to earn a law degree by becoming more accessible and affordable. These programs create an opportunity which will open doors for working adults to pursue their dreams of becoming a lawyer who are not able to attend traditional classes. Colleges of Law Juris Doctor program is accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE) of the State Bar of California. For more information, visit


50th Anniversary Gala

The Colleges of Law will celebrate a half-century of service to the local legal and business community with their 50th Anniversary Gala on September 21, 2019 to recognize the school’s historic achievements during an evening of fine dining and entertainment at the Museum of Ventura County. In recognition of the caliber of service and outstanding contribution to the local legal community, one such illustrious COL alumnae, the Hon. Colleen Toy White, will be presented with school’s inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award at the 50th Anniversary Gala.

Gala tickets may be purchased online at or at the Colleges of Law campuses (located at 4475 Market Street, Ventura, and 20 E. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara). Tickets are $125 per guest, or Table Sponsors $1,000 for a table of 10; $900 for a table of 8. Read the full press release here.