Larry Abramson, “Do Law Schools Cook Their Employment Numbers?” National Public Radio
Much of the piece is a rehash of law schools luring students in with juked employment numbers. To that extent, it tells us nothing new. Moreover, the problem I’m having with these types of pieces that characterize the problem as graduates vs. law schools vs. the ABA vs. Law School Transparency is that they take it as a given that law school must be expensive. The only time the word “tuition” appears is when NPR talks somewhat dismissively about scam blogs.
“But in blogs like the LawSchoolScam.blogspot.com [Exposing the Law School Scam], former students howl about high tuition and lousy job prospects.”
That’s it. No discussion on if these “howling” former students have a point about tuition being too high, if there is tuition inflation, and what’s causing it. But that’s not what raised my eyebrow:
“[Changes in the ABA’s rules] will help applicants in the future decide if they are picking a school that is turning out employable lawyers.”
If you’re a layperson, doesn’t this sound bizarre to you? Why on earth should we loan money to people to go to law schools that don’t turn out employable lawyers? Doesn’t this mean law schools should close? How many? I chalk this up to unartful writing, but it still sounds like NPR contemplates allowing law schools to waste loan dollars so long as the applicants—I mean—consumers make an informed choice.
There’s one point of fresh substance at the end of the piece: ED’s and the ABA’s powers regarding employment and accreditation.
“When critics attacked for-profit colleges for similar problems, the Department of Education tightened regulations on those schools. But the Department says it has no authority to do the same to the vast majority of law programs.”
So this means ED can’t condition loan access on gainful employment rates ala the gainful employment rule. Earlier:
[ABA Section of Legal Education Chair and New England School of Law’s Dean John] O’Brian says it’s still up to students to scrutinize that data, because the ABA can only demand transparency. “These schools are simply required to report. We do not have minimum standards for employment,” he says.
Required to report, yes; enforced to report? No. We’ll see how that one goes. However, can the ABA enact minimum employment standards? 34 CFR 602.16(a) reads:
“§ 602.16 Accreditation and preaccreditation standards.
(a) The agency must demonstrate that it has standards for accreditation, and preaccreditation, if offered, that are sufficiently rigorous to ensure that the agency is a reliable authority regarding the quality of the education or training provided by the institutions or programs it accredits. The agency meets this requirement if—
(1) The agency’s accreditation standards effectively address the quality of the institution or program in the following areas:
(i) Success with respect to student achievement in relation to the institution’s mission, which may include different standards for different institutions or programs, as established by the institution, including, as appropriate, consideration of State licensing examinations, course completion, and job placement rates.”
The only interpretation of this regulation I could find is in a draft of ED’s “Guide to the Accrediting Agency Recognition Process,” dated February 2010, which states on page 27:
“Compliance Factors … The agency must specify when it is appropriate to consider course completion, State licensing examination, and job placement rates and provide justification.”
It sounds to me like the ABA can do a whole lot more than transparency when it comes to regulating law schools’ graduates’ employment outcomes, and it would use the same mechanism that allowed it to rescind the University of La Verne’s provisional accreditation last summer due to its low bar passage rates. All it has to do is prove to ED that applying more rigorous job placement standards denotes “success with respect to student achievement.” I’m not sure if that means it can say that 95 percent of grads have to be in full-time JD-preferred positions nine months after graduation, but it can at least make the argument, contrary to Dean O’Brien’s statements.
[UPDATE]: I forgot to mention that I liked Kyle McEntee’s point that the ABA’s changes “won’t help students already in school.” Why current students aren’t walking away is still a mystery to me.