Kinda Links–Law School Deans, College Presidents, Kentuckians, & Canadians

Note 1:  I’m sparing you readers the remaining two Who albums that no one, including myself, have ever heard (It’s Hard and Endless Wire) in favor of greener, linky pastures: The Kinks!

Note 2:  I’ve been busy recently, so I know some of this is older news.

There are four links!

(1) Managing Partner, “Law School Deans Discuss State of Legal Education – Chicago Lawyer,” in The Legal Dollar

Managing Partner spared me the onerous task of slogging through five law school deans’ (John Marshall, Chicago Kent, University of Chicago, DePaul, and Loyola) blather on the state of legal education.

By seeing how the Deans talk about the issues among themselves, you can really learn a lot about how they view themselves and how they relate to students…I’m going to try not to condemn the Deans ‒ instead, we can use this as an opportunity to try to understand how the Deans make decisions and what is valuable to them.

The deans are essentially truthful.  They’re upfront about how US News’ ranking’s (and applicants’ use of the rankings in determining where to purchase their legal education) transformed their work into a business, requiring them to increase faculty, improve facilities, and raise tuition.

Amusingly, Managing Partner refers to a visit to a law school that received a $50 million bequest, and how its students wanted it spent on better facilities.  Managing Partner, that wouldn’t’ve been, oh I don’t know…Marquette University Law School in 2008?

Overall, the rest of the piece illustrates how law school deans do not view their performance in terms of outcomes.

In a very real way, by the time you enroll in the law school, you have already been “sold” and the attention shifts to the next generation of customers.

Again, note that there is never any mention of optimizing their class size with regard to the number of potential job openings.  Of course, to be fair, they might feel that it would be pretty “suicidal” for a law school to try to reduce its class size on its own ‒ alternatively, it would be “brave” and “moral” and “the right thing to do” and “setting the ethical example that you complain that your students are somehow not learning while at the same time you set a terrible, terrible ethical example for them.”   (*Sigh* And I was going to try not to judge!)

Managing Partner’s concluding plea reminds me just how paralyzed law school deans are by the tuition bubble: dearth of opportunities on the one hand, irrational exuberance of the applicants on the other.  Each thinks: If only the economy would create 400,000 high-paying jobs per month for five straight years and bail us all out already!!

With regard to law school Deans, prospective law students need to know that their future is pretty much not a concern for the Deans.  The law school does not care that you may not find a job ‒ or that the opportunities for you at this point are terrible.  They are in business to sell a service ‒ legal education ‒ and that’s what they do.  Frankly, they are amazed that more and more potential law students are knocking on their door when it is such a bad deal for the law student ‒ but they respond like anyone else that is selling a service: they sell more!

Prospective law students ‒ please, please, please think long and hard before going to law school ‒ even law school Deans think that the market for new lawyers is terrible!

(2) “Student Loan Relief for Students at Bankrupt Kentucky Law School,” consumeraffairs.com

I referred to the defunct for-profit American Justice School of Law/Alben W. Barkley School of Law in Paducah, KY recently.  Good news for the students there: some of their loans are eligible for forgiveness due to an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) Student Loan Express entered into with the state of Kentucky.  The state Attorney General discovered all kinds of consumer abuses and misrepresentations in the student loan applications.  The AVC allows forgiveness for credits that do not transfer to other law schools and living expenses, plus interest.

(3) Dr. Barry Glassner, “Yes, College is Worth the Price of Admission,” in College News

Lewis & Clark President-elect Glassner fights back against claims of a higher education bubble, even correcting the record on a 2009 Lewis and Clark law graduate who not only does not blame the law school for her debt and difficult career start but also is now off food stamps.  This brings to mind But I Did Everything Right!’s “Harvard to Homeless” series.  Glassner’s argument is one all student debt-fighters must take seriously.

His argument rests on the bottleneck premise at the end:

I am confident that the economy will improve. When it does, [graduates] will make their way into the kinds of positions they had in mind when they invested in their education.

I would jump for joy if President-elect Glassner were correct, but there’s scant evidence the economy will improve without government intervention.  Moreover, people who graduate into recessions are far less likely to have successful careers than those who do not, so going to college now is a risk.

I’ll summarize Glassner’s arguments along with my bulleted responses:

1).  The 58 [out of 1,700 private four-year] colleges that charge more than $50k per year in tuition also award the highest scholarships and grants.  Most Americans attend cheaper public schools.

  • What about the other 1,642 private four-year colleges?  Even $25,000 per year is still a six-figure debt at graduation without financial aid.

2).  “Average loan debt stood at just over $23,000 for college seniors who graduated in 2008, according to a report released last year by the Project on Student Debt… But the figure is a fraction of the $120,000 waved about…”

  • Three problems:
    • The article Glassner references commits a fallacy of composition, specifically an ecological fallacy.  What’s the average debt for public school graduates?  What’s the average debt for private school graduates?  Additionally, the cited article concedes that the average debt is at an all-time high, which doesn’t help Glassner.
    • Even if public university students pay less in tuition than their private school counterparts, how much do state governments subsidize their universities?  Taxpayers shouldn’t foot a tuition bubble.
    • The $120,000 that’s being “waved about” is the cumulative student debt belonging to a law graduate, and her juniors’ debt will be worse than hers (13.57% adjusted for inflation).  I’ll introduce Dr. Glassner to the law school tuition bubble below.

3).  “In my experience, graduates almost universally tell us their education prepared them for long-term success in their careers while broadening their minds and enriching their lives.”

  • The issue isn’t graduates’ feelings but whether their education provides them with better economic benefits than selling jeans at American Apparel.  Glassner needs to give us math instead of anecdotes.

4).  “The rhetoric about stratospheric tuition and student debt has its uses, of course — motivating people to vote a certain way, for example, or to stay tuned for the next segment on a news program. But it comes at a cost. The exaggerated horror stories obscure situations that are worthy of serious attention.”

  • I’m certain the majority of people who went through higher education over the last fifteen years would vote for candidates who favor reforming the bankruptcy code to remove the “undue hardship” exception to their student loans.  I see nothing wrong with informing the public about this.  Nor do I see anything wrong with news programs tempting their viewers to keep watching.  The “exaggerated horror story” Glassner referenced isn’t atypical of recent law graduates: a woman who maintains a positive attitude despite difficulties repaying her student loans.  Lewis & Clark’s average student debt for 2009 law graduates, without exaggeration (any fallacies of composition are US News‘), is $95,608 and rising each year.  This is a situation worthy of serious attention by the legal profession and university administrators.

Whoo!  Okay Dr. Glassner, I promised you some bubble, so behold:

Lewis and Clark’s Undergraduate and Law School Tuition since 2007

Year Undergrad Tuition % Increase % Increase (Inflation-Adjusted)
2007-2008 31,624 N/A N/A
2008-2009 33,490 5.9% 1.98%
2009-2010 34,995 4.5% 4.87%
2010-2011 36,394 4.0% 2.2%
Total +4,770 15% 9.3%
Year Law Tuition % Increase % Increase (Inflation-Adjusted)
2007-2008 28,984 N/A N/A
2008-2009 30,436 5.0% 1.13%
2009-2010 31,934 4.92% 5.3%
2010-2011 35,048 9.75% 7.85%
Total +6,064 20.9% 14.85%

I find this fascinating and am glad major news media are reporting it.  Obviously, salaries are not increasing during the recession (nor have they been for some time), meaning the tuition hikes, especially for the law school’s this year, are unjustified.  At some point, likely already, a $145,576 Lewis and Clark bachelors degree will not be worth the four-year investment, to say nothing of its $105,144 law degree.  Of course, not everyone pays the sticker price, but some do.

To conclude, Lewis and Clark’s previous president, Thomas J. Hochstettler, received $343,158 in base compensation alone–the same year some of his law graduates lined up for food stamps after returning their caps and gowns.  Before President-elect Barry Glassner accepts similar compensation, he should use data instead of anecdotal evidence, and then explain to his students why they should pay so much more for the same educations their predecessors received.

(4) Christopher Guly, “Apprenticeship to Academe: The History of Law Schools in Canada,” “Demand for Law School Spots High,” “The Future of Canadian Law Schools,” a three-part series on Canada’s legal education system in The Lawyers Weekly.

I liked this series as I’m a student of comparative studies.  I don’t have too much to say about it except I hope the Canadians don’t make the same mistakes we have.  Although Canada may eliminate its “articling” (apprenticeship) requirement and build more law schools, including private ones, in the future, the series doesn’t tell us if Canada also has an attorney oversupply problem.  On the bright side, Canada’s bankruptcy laws allow dischargeability of student debt after seven years, so a tuition bubble is less likely to form.

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2 Responses

  1. Great Post! With regard to the particular law school associated with the $50M bequest story, I regret that it will have to remain anonymous for now.

    Also, with regard to “average student debt at graduation”, the figure is highly misleading because it includes students that were rich enough to have no debt at all. The sample set should not include no-debt students. Also, there should be a seperate figure for “students who have to use debt to pay 100% of their tuition” – that would be much more relevant.

  2. Eckstein’s Ghost! I’ll not press you on the identity of the law school that found its way into some money.

    Thanks for the kind words–I enjoy writing quite a bit. I’ll add your blog to the list, which I also need to do for all the vulgar, offensive, and dastardly scam blogs.

    Yeah, that $23,000 figure is unbelievable. Your additional layers of composition problems are appreciated. Since studying research methods in grad school, ecological fallacies are one of my favorites. Sounds like the argument has an E. Coli infection.

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