The University of Arizona's Brent White, center, displays a T-shirt bearing two school logos at Ocean University of China.

Courtesy of the University of Arizona

With demand for law degrees still slumping at home, the University of Arizona has launched a new effort to educate attorneys an ocean away.

The Tucson school has partnered with Ocean University of China to produce hundreds of new Chinese lawyers conversant with the U.S. legal system.

The dual-degree program, much of which will be taught online, could eventually generate more than $1 million a year in new income for the UA under a revenue-sharing agreement between the universities.

The program, the first of its kind in China, allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree from an American law school without leaving home, said Brent White, associate dean for programs and global initiatives at the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law.

“Our operating premise is that millions of students would like a U.S. education but can’t afford to come,” White said. The new program “takes U.S. education to students who otherwise wouldn’t have access.”

Ocean University is located in Qingdao on China’s east coast. The city, sometimes referred to as Tsingtao, is the home of Tsingtao Brewery, producer of one of the nation’s most popular beers.

The UA’s China push follows years of dwindling first-year enrollment at the Tucson law school, a trend that hasn’t reversed despite recent tuition cuts aimed at attracting more domestic law students.

First-year enrollment for traditional UA law degrees fell 26 percent between 2011 and 2015, data from the school show. Tuition cuts in 2013 and 2014 slowed the rate of decline to a trickle, but didn’t stop the downturn, which has also hit some other U.S. law schools.

The UA’s traditional law degree, the juris doctor, isn’t required to practice law in China, where a bachelor’s degree is sufficient.

Students in the new program can graduate in four years with two degrees, a bachelor’s of law from the Chinese school and a bachelor’s of arts in law from the UA, White said.

The UA also will provide language training and teach classes solely in English at the request of Chinese officials, White said.

Start-up costs for the program were minimal, he said. Ocean University provided program space free of charge, and only a handful of UA personnel are needed in China because much of the instruction is online.

The program, launched last semester, attracted 77 students to start and can accommodate up to 400 a year.

Tuition is $8,000 a year, $5,000 of which goes to the UA. At the maximum capacity of 400 students, UA would receive $2 million a year in tuition revenue and use less than half to run the program, White said.

UA Provost Andrew Comrie said the partnership is timely now that China has become America’s largest trading partner.

“Both countries benefit from a better understanding of our economy and our laws,” he said in a news release.

The new program “serves a pressing need for bilingual lawyers competent in both legal systems,” he said.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@tucson.com or 573-4138.