Anyone who read last weekend’s New York Times piece, “Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!” by David Segal should also take the time to read NYLS dean Richard Matasar’s response, “Law School Cost, Educational Outcomes, and a Reformer’s Agenda,” on NYLS’s website. Matasar keeps his cool and provides the written pieces he sent to Segal before the article’s publication. Today’s special is what exactly caused NYLS’s large class of 2009.
[NYLS] increased the size of the class that arrived in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded.
For the prior 3 years our yield rate—the percentage of students who received offers, who accepted those offers, and enrolled—had been relatively steady. From 2008 to 2009, however, the yield rate increased by 10 percent, meaning that even though we accepted fewer students than the prior year (approximately 150 fewer), 170 more students enrolled. While we can’t say with certainty why this happened, we can look to the economic downturn, the opening of the new building which was receiving rave reviews, and the fact that we were coming off of a record high bar pass rate of 93.6 percent as reasons why more applicants chose to come. Again, enrollment can be very unpredictable.
So: Segal argues the 2009 1L bounce was deliberate and reckless on NYLS’s part; Matasar counters that it’s not NYLS’s fault people were clamoring to go there for its building, high bar passage rates, and law school’s low opportunity cost.
Except they weren’t.
Aside from the fact that the economic downturn translated to only a slight bump in law school applicants, NYLS saw none of this. Indeed, according to Official Guide data NYLS suffered a 25% applicant drop in 2009, complicating the story.
Instead of cobbling together an HTML table, here’s a screen capture of NYLS’s incoming classes from 2004 to 2010 according to the Official Guide.
So full-time applicants dropped 28% and part-time applicants 11%. Segal didn’t research this, and Dean Matasar has no reason to tell anyone. At some point in 2009 NYLS’s admissions office must have realized there was a problem, and it altered its acceptance strategy accordingly.
Starting with part-time students, it looks like Segal is right: NYLS deliberately accepted more applicants predicting they would matriculate. For full-time applicants, one might think that by extending fewer offers than in previous years, NYLS was expecting a smaller incoming class, but that wasn’t what it did. Bear in mind the “Offer %” was 10% higher than in previous years despite the lower numeric acceptance rate. Had it accepted 45% of its full-time applicants, with 20% matriculating, it would have an incoming class of 306, similar to 2006, which was an unusually low matriculation year for NYLS.
When a drop in applications occurs, the quality of the applicants (LSAT & GPA) drops as well. The bell curve contracts and shifts rightward towards zero. Looking at the full-time class of 2009, I characterize what happened to NYLS as a “downshift.” NYLS had to compromise accepting students with lower-than-usual credentials against under-enrolling its incoming class. It accepted 212 fewer applicants, but it inaccurately predicted the matriculation yield. Consequently, Matasar is right to the extent that NYLS didn’t predict the willingness of people who got B’s in college to go to NYLS over those who got B+’s.
I suspect geography explains the downshift. The only other law schools in New York State that accepted the kinds of students that NYLS did in 2009 were Albany, Syracuse, and Touro. Albany and Syracuse are mid-state, and Touro is beyond Gatsby Country on Long Island, making it more attractive to New Jersey-based applicants.[i] In 2009 NYLS accidentally discovered that it is in a prime location to serve the market for B-average prospective law students. In 2010, NYLS adapted again by accepting its usual number of part-time applicants, roughly, but it reduced its numbers of offers despite a slight increase in full-time applicants. Its matriculation yield was still 10% higher than before 2009, but the incoming class largely recovered to median B+ college students, though the high-end GPAs were slightly lower. It will be interesting to see what happens to NYLS in fall 2011. However, of the 2,000 or so fewer NYLS applicants in 2009 and 2010, some of them may have realized a law career would not be available to them if they went to NYLS.
The good news that Segal missed and Matasar declined to mention is that not all lemmings jump.