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Which Law Schools Are Like Whittier?

Whittier Law School announced it will no longer enroll 1L classes but will graduate the students it has. It is the first fully accredited law school that is straight up closing, i.e. it isn’t merging with another school or finding some other way out of its problems. It’s going for good.

Whittier is not the school I would’ve predicted to be the first to close. Certainly it was in a high-risk category, but I thought others were in direr straits, and Whittier isn’t even freestanding. Charlotte lost its federal loan funding. The ABA censured Valparaiso (pdf), put Arizona Summit on probation (pdf), and told Ave Maria it was out of compliance with its standards (pdf). La Verne lost its provisional accreditation once, and the fates of (un)merged Camden and Penn-State Dickinson appear sealed. Indiana Tech immolated on the launch pad. These days the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s Web site looks more like an academic police blotter than an accrediting body’s homepage.

The question all this raises is: What law schools might be in situations similar to Whittier’s?

We can answer by comparing Whittier to other law schools on various dimensions, particularly debt, employment outcomes, and estimated revenue from full-time students paying full tuition. (Others have already done most of the work on bar-passage rates.)

This past year, U.S. News ranked Whittier as number two for average disbursed graduate debt, $179,056, but its figure was 20 percent higher than last year. It’s a volatile measure, but this year some of its notable nearest neighbors were Thomas Jefferson, San Francisco, American, Golden Gate, John Marshall (Chicago), and Florida Coastal. Most of these law schools featured prominently on debt rankings in previous years.

A couple years ago, I applied the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule to all law schools—not just for-profits—and found that Whittier’s 2014 graduates would need to earn more than $80,000 to avoid a failing grade. Four years of failing would mean losing access to federal funding, and nearly a quarter of Whittier’s graduates were totally unemployed after graduating. That figure hasn’t improved since (~23 percent for class of 2015 grads). We’ll soon learn how bad the class of 2016 is doing, but Whittier’s full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required employment rate has been so abysmal that it ranks near the three law schools in Puerto Rico. (Yes, bar-passage rates feed into this outcome.)

The one metric where Whittier wasn’t doing as badly as many other (private) law schools was its cumulative losses in tuition revenue from full-time students. In 2015-16, it took in nearly $6 million, but in 2011-12 it received $13.5 million. The 56 percent drop puts it at number 64 among private law schools (though the top schools, Vermont, Brooklyn, WMU Cooley, and California Western, reported more students receiving grants than they had full-time students, which would probably bump Whittier up a few notches). 56 percent is rough, but a bunch of private law schools lost even larger shares of money—and some took in only a few hundred thousand dollars in full-time tuition revenue last year.

Here’s what the situation looks like for all private law schools, sorted by the percent decline. Note that for once, I am including the two private law schools in Puerto Rico because I feel their performance is indicative of the worst. These figures are adjusted for inflation.

REVENUE FROM FULL-TIME STUDENTS PAYING FULL-TUITION
# SCHOOL 2011 2015 CUMULATIVE LOSS PERCENT CHANGE
1. Vermont 10,860,119 -5,422,079 -16,282,198 -149.9%
2. Brooklyn 10,782,779 -3,509,376 -14,292,155 -132.5%
3. WMU Cooley 1,557,772 -478,900 -2,036,672 -130.7%
4. California Western 25,045,967 -897,940 -25,943,907 -103.6%
5. St. Thomas (MN) 5,743,284 37,941 -5,705,343 -99.3%
6. Appalachian 9,093,131 125,300 -8,967,831 -98.6%
7. Washington and Lee 6,903,362 185,988 -6,717,374 -97.3%
8. Tulsa 4,599,211 142,116 -4,457,095 -96.9%
9. DePaul 14,469,813 681,750 -13,788,063 -95.3%
10. Albany 19,114,661 1,952,910 -17,161,751 -89.8%
11. Widener (Commonwealth) 9,036,506 965,862 -8,070,644 -89.3%
12. New York Law School 41,803,974 4,530,080 -37,273,894 -89.2%
13. Northeastern 4,283,568 511,720 -3,771,848 -88.1%
14. Syracuse 8,186,463 1,132,272 -7,054,191 -86.2%
15. Florida Coastal 33,851,726 4,908,200 -28,943,526 -85.5%
16. Duquesne 12,035,146 1,749,704 -10,285,442 -85.5%
17. Ohio Northern 8,637,468 1,301,500 -7,335,968 -84.9%
18. Pacific, McGeorge 11,571,986 1,786,138 -9,785,848 -84.6%
19. Campbell 15,454,205 2,407,975 -13,046,230 -84.4%
20. Regent 2,904,848 453,570 -2,451,278 -84.4%
21. Mercer 15,437,642 2,719,980 -12,717,662 -82.4%
22. Lewis and Clark 8,873,433 1,611,792 -7,261,641 -81.8%
23. Case Western Reserve 8,801,033 1,705,620 -7,095,413 -80.6%
24. St. Louis 18,241,963 3,605,940 -14,636,023 -80.2%
25. Southern California 15,531,071 3,075,166 -12,455,905 -80.2%
26. Charleston 10,513,451 2,206,380 -8,307,071 -79.0%
27. Faulkner 7,911,732 1,822,600 -6,089,132 -77.0%
28. Seton Hall 13,687,741 3,163,116 -10,524,625 -76.9%
29. Southern Methodist 6,211,571 1,448,898 -4,762,673 -76.7%
30. Charlotte 35,712,406 8,517,688 -27,194,718 -76.1%
31. Catholic 10,588,407 2,528,010 -8,060,397 -76.1%
32. Dayton 8,333,640 1,997,240 -6,336,400 -76.0%
33. Wake Forest 7,890,988 1,923,210 -5,967,778 -75.6%
34. Ave Maria 9,074,461 2,293,830 -6,780,631 -74.7%
35. Widener (Delaware) 15,458,193 3,989,430 -11,468,763 -74.2%
36. Western State 5,821,292 1,517,250 -4,304,042 -73.9%
37. Loyola (LA) 15,784,287 4,123,950 -11,660,337 -73.9%
38. Touro 11,489,969 3,078,650 -8,411,319 -73.2%
39. Quinnipiac 4,800,111 1,297,323 -3,502,788 -73.0%
40. Boston University 9,809,602 2,762,480 -7,047,122 -71.8%
41. Gonzaga 4,965,149 1,423,890 -3,541,259 -71.3%
42. Golden Gate 14,318,443 4,263,350 -10,055,093 -70.2%
43. Chicago-Kent, IIT 12,104,788 3,979,870 -8,124,918 -67.1%
44. Pace 11,888,268 3,993,088 -7,895,180 -66.4%
45. Atlanta’s John Marshall 16,084,711 5,613,700 -10,471,011 -65.1%
46. Mississippi College 12,823,594 4,506,420 -8,317,174 -64.9%
47. Washington University 11,705,942 4,181,706 -7,524,236 -64.3%
48. Stetson 22,598,743 8,212,224 -14,386,519 -63.7%
49. Valparaiso 15,710,039 5,732,824 -9,977,215 -63.5%
50. Northwestern 28,591,723 10,570,038 -18,021,685 -63.0%
51. Fordham 38,473,640 14,340,740 -24,132,900 -62.7%
52. Oklahoma City 10,178,065 3,810,630 -6,367,435 -62.6%
53. Elon 3,280,392 1,233,358 -2,047,034 -62.4%
54. Capital 7,447,505 2,820,480 -4,627,025 -62.1%
55. Cardozo, Yeshiva 21,942,175 8,838,095 -13,104,080 -59.7%
56. John Marshall (Chicago) 25,576,716 10,437,840 -15,138,876 -59.2%
57. Villanova 13,909,852 5,785,440 -8,124,412 -58.4%
58. Thomas Jefferson 17,301,310 7,207,200 -10,094,110 -58.3%
59. Samford 11,286,294 4,822,480 -6,463,814 -57.3%
60. Santa Clara 16,091,642 6,913,980 -9,177,662 -57.0%
61. San Diego 19,178,183 8,350,101 -10,828,082 -56.5%
62. Roger Williams 12,099,840 5,362,380 -6,737,460 -55.7%
63. St. John’s 18,866,076 8,366,530 -10,499,546 -55.7%
64. Whittier 13,502,174 5,989,950 -7,512,224 -55.6%
65. Seattle 15,747,526 7,248,700 -8,498,826 -54.0%
66. Creighton 7,850,075 3,625,800 -4,224,275 -53.8%
67. Hofstra 23,812,510 11,012,750 -12,799,760 -53.8%
68. Drexel 2,205,873 1,056,750 -1,149,123 -52.1%
69. Drake 6,852,106 3,342,476 -3,509,630 -51.2%
70. Vanderbilt 5,452,630 2,670,720 -2,781,910 -51.0%
71. Loyola (CA) 29,845,203 14,914,900 -14,930,303 -50.0%
72. Detroit Mercy 15,782,962 7,903,740 -7,879,222 -49.9%
73. Michigan State 12,439,389 6,453,892 -5,985,497 -48.1%
74. Tulane 13,779,350 7,311,590 -6,467,760 -46.9%
75. Barry 6,669,908 3,727,776 -2,942,132 -44.1%
76. Chicago 12,401,406 7,083,930 -5,317,476 -42.9%
77. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 12,828,297 7,562,152 -5,266,145 -41.1%
78. St. Thomas (FL) 16,799,445 9,990,390 -6,809,055 -40.5%
79. South Texas 17,958,443 10,704,870 -7,253,573 -40.4%
80. Pontifical Catholic 8,442,917 5,132,426 -3,310,491 -39.2%
81. Nova Southeastern 24,168,295 14,852,135 -9,316,160 -38.5%
82. Marquette 11,533,718 7,312,710 -4,221,008 -36.6%
83. Miami 34,008,712 21,832,718 -12,175,994 -35.8%
84. San Francisco 15,483,541 10,028,040 -5,455,501 -35.2%
85. Western New England 3,630,743 2,375,332 -1,255,411 -34.6%
86. Chapman 13,208,102 8,859,600 -4,348,502 -32.9%
87. New England 12,668,264 8,665,140 -4,003,124 -31.6%
88. Suffolk 27,272,730 18,739,094 -8,533,636 -31.3%
89. Cornell 18,586,044 12,775,953 -5,810,091 -31.3%
90. Boston College 16,102,424 11,277,420 -4,825,004 -30.0%
91. Inter American 6,898,330 5,040,051 -1,858,279 -26.9%
92. Loyola (IL) 4,583,328 3,351,312 -1,232,016 -26.9%
93. Southwestern 20,968,555 15,449,600 -5,518,955 -26.3%
94. American 31,922,411 23,868,936 -8,053,475 -25.2%
95. Notre Dame 7,908,972 5,918,036 -1,990,936 -25.2%
96. Denver 17,465,736 14,026,950 -3,438,786 -19.7%
97. Emory 8,896,804 7,211,400 -1,685,404 -18.9%
98. Richmond 7,438,055 6,232,200 -1,205,855 -16.2%
99. Georgetown 52,209,277 43,872,470 -8,336,807 -16.0%
100. Baylor 5,148,380 4,777,042 -371,338 -7.2%
101. St. Mary’s 14,146,074 13,128,560 -1,017,514 -7.2%
102. Columbia 38,452,666 35,989,800 -2,462,866 -6.4%
103. Yale 15,515,266 14,918,850 -596,416 -3.8%
104. New York University 46,942,488 46,870,700 -71,788 -0.2%
105. Pennsylvania 22,739,776 23,802,872 1,063,096 4.7%
106. Willamette 3,947,758 4,251,625 303,867 7.7%
107. George Washington 32,385,362 35,444,670 3,059,308 9.4%
108. Pepperdine 11,117,822 12,539,100 1,421,278 12.8%
109. Harvard 41,997,217 51,660,654 9,663,437 23.0%
110. Duke 3,507,038 5,136,813 1,629,775 46.5%
111. Howard 5,501,024 8,221,176 2,720,152 49.4%
112. Stanford 11,569,636 17,613,762 6,044,126 52.2%
113. Liberty 96,858 189,372 92,514 95.5%
114. La Verne 171,882 3,369,344 3,197,462 1860.3%
115. Belmont 4,805,640 N/A N/A
116. Concordia 203,301 N/A N/A
118. Indiana Tech 94,080 N/A N/A
119. Lincoln Memorial 387,480 N/A N/A
TOTAL 1,672,895,574 849,546,398 -828,839,677 -49.2%
10TH PERCENTILE 4,583,328 203,301 -14,636,023 -89.3%
25TH PERCENTILE 7,890,988 1,822,600 -10,094,110 -76.9%
MEDIAN 12,253,097 4,518,250 -6,759,046 -58.4%
75TH PERCENTILE 17,465,736 8,517,688 -3,438,786 -32.9%
90TH PERCENTILE 29,845,203 14,918,850 -371,338 -3.8%
MEAN 14,674,523 7,199,546 -7,270,523 -36.3%

(Source: ABA, author’s calculations)

Obviously full-time, full-tuition revenue doesn’t tell all of the story—and not just for part-time-focused operations like WMU Cooley—but it definitely illustrates the kind of circumstances many private law schools find themselves in. The same must be true for public law schools. It’s in this context that we can ponder the solvency of other at-risk law schools. Whittier is the first big closure, but it won’t be the last. Universities whose law schools are losing lots of money and have poor employment and bar-passage outcomes are watching Whittier and its neighbors.

America’s Doomed Democracy: The ‘Prophetic Fallacy’ Revisited

“I don’t think anyone seriously expects Republican control come 2017,” I wrote just over two years ago, yet here we are. And since we’ve survived President Emolument’s administration for this long—and the Senate just eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees—I have time to hold myself accountable: Was I wrong about the “prophetic fallacy” two years ago?

Background:

In 2015, I responded to a Vox editorial arguing that the U.S. constitutional system is doomed for structural reasons: Its 18th-century separation-of-powers mechanisms cannot withstand today’s ideological gridlock, so eventually the parties will exceed mere norm-breaking, triggering a constitutional crisis that will result in a new (parliamentary?) system of government. First, senators threaten to destroy the filibuster, then presidents legislate with executive orders, and then we’re Venezuela.

I countered that Vox was committing the “prophetic fallacy,” which I think I coined. It means unfalsifiable, apocalyptic predictions couched as thoughtful political science. It’s not certain that the U.S. government will fail because the parties don’t get along, and Vox‘s argument rested on the position that “both sides do it too (except the Republicans are worse).”

So, it sure looks like the constitutional system is in jeopardy, but is it doomed for the reasons Vox outlined? To be fair, I expected that Republicans had no chance of winning the presidency going forward (and not just popular vote) and that the history books would look back at this era as one of incremental change by mediocre Democratic presidents. Now, I will never doubt Democrats’ ability to lose elections.

However, the foundation of Vox‘s argument was that both sides are breaking democratic norms to the point of constitutional fracture. This still is not correct. There’s a difference between Democrats’ breaches of norms and Republicans’. That is: Are there any win-sets for either party when it’s in the minority?

A “win-set,” termed by Robert Putnam, is any number of potential outcomes that would be acceptable to one’s own side in two-step negotiation. Applied to this context, there’s no evidence that Democrats would have rejected every single Republican Supreme Court nominee in 2017. I believe they would have accepted a 70-year-old conservative, for example, to fill the vacancy, believing that this individual would retire or die within several years. By contrast Republicans did not have any win-sets with President Obama. They weren’t going to accept any of his nominees—hell, they wouldn’t even let him fill routine positions in the executive branch—and in 2016 some of them even promised to obstruct anyone Hillary Clinton nominated to the Supreme Court.

So as of now, Vox‘s conditions for structural breakdown have not been met. Democrats still “play by the rules” and Republicans simply refuse to negotiate. We still have a problem of minoritarian power vetoing the will of the public, but the system hasn’t failed yet due to gridlock.

Now, what to make of our emolument-hogging president? This too is not something Vox or anyone else predicted in 2015. Moreover, Trump’s infiltration of the Republican Party didn’t occur because of gridlock; rather, it was the party’s ideological sclerosis. “Tax cuts for the few, and fetuses for all,” is an even less inspiring slogan for the majority of Americans than Trump’s blather, even when Ben Carson barks it. Beyond that, the norm-breaking involved with Trump isn’t Republicans obstructing Democrats; it’s Republicans failing to hold their extra-constitutional president accountable.

Let’s be clear, though: Some parts of the Constitution aren’t enforceable without a deep ideological commitment to its principles. For example, Trump’s missile attack on Syria wasn’t authorized by Congress and doesn’t fit into the War Powers Act. Is anyone going to impeach him for that? The same goes for emoluments. Separation of powers can cause needless gridlock, but checks and balances can fail easily too.

Thus, the fear today isn’t gridlock but its opposite: “constitutional retrogression” due to lateral control of the government by power-hungry authoritarians. Academics Aziz Z. Huq and Tom Ginsburg discuss this in their article, “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” (SSRN link is down as I write this.) The authors argue that instead of a military coup or a dictator taking power, the more likely path to authoritarianism for the U.S. is a silenced civil society, compliant courts, and rigged or meaningless elections.

I emphasize that if this disaster comes about, its cause won’t be norm-breaking gridlock but norm-breaking procedurally successful governance. One can even imagine Trump leaning heavily on the president’s pardoning power to excuse his family and cronies from liability. It’d probably be constitutional even if the president is part of the conspiracy.

I’m unsure constitutional retrogression will blight us. At least, I think the courts are still sufficiently loyal to the Constitution to prevent that kind of subversion, and Trump really has not made many friends among the judiciary. But the only way Vox‘s argument holds up at this point is by predicting what happens once Republicans are out of power. Depending on the scale of his overreaches, it’s quite conceivable that Democrats (let’s say) would have little political choice but to prosecute Trump and his cronies for their criminal regime, breaking the presidential tradition of not going after one’s predecessors.

Once these trials begin we’re totally in banana republic country because the political discourse will disintegrate into endless recriminations and revenge prosecutions. Or, maybe Americans will tire of it and their politicians will get the hint and become civil again. That’s the prophetic fallacy for you.

Only 13 Law Schools Didn’t Report 2016 Graduate Debt to U.S. News

Each year U.S. News & World Report lists law schools by the average indebtedness of their graduates. Importantly, the figures exclude accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these numbers are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here’s the debt table. A recurring problem in U.S. News’ debt data is law schools that misreport their graduating students’ annual debt as opposed to their cumulative debt, which is what the magazine asks for. Thus, I include last year’s numbers for illustration and encourage ridicule of law schools that cannot follow basic directions, but I welcome corrections.

# SCHOOL 2015 DEBT 2016 DEBT PCT. CHANGE
1. Thomas Jefferson 172,726 182,411 5.6%
2. Whittier 148,316 179,056 20.7%
3. San Francisco 162,434 167,671 3.2%
4. New York University 166,022 167,646 1.0%
5. Georgetown 160,606 166,027 3.4%
6. American 160,274 164,194 2.4%
7. Golden Gate 143,740 161,809 12.6%
8. Columbia 168,627 159,769 -5.3%
9. John Marshall (Chicago) 162,264 158,888 -2.1%
10. Florida Coastal 160,942 158,878 -1.3%
11. Cornell 155,025 158,128 2.0%
12. New York Law School 161,910 157,568 -2.7%
13. Pennsylvania 144,153 156,725 8.7%
14. Virginia 146,907 155,177 5.6%
15. Northwestern 155,796 154,923 -0.6%
16. Pepperdine 148,959 154,475 3.7%
17. Elon 128,407 153,347 19.4%
18. Harvard 149,754 153,172 2.3%
19. Ave Maria 134,071 152,476 13.7%
20. Detroit Mercy 137,047 152,000 10.9%
21. Barry 138,410 151,479 9.4%
22. Denver 132,158 150,055 13.5%
23. Santa Clara 144,130 149,940 4.0%
24. Miami 155,796 149,580 -4.0%
25. Willamette 133,318 148,429 11.3%
26. Nova Southeastern 123,798 147,879 19.5%
27. California Western 162,260 147,302 -9.2%
28. Loyola (CA) 148,035 146,494 -1.0%
29. Michigan 142,572 146,309 2.6%
30. California-Berkeley 144,981 145,260 0.2%
31. George Washington 136,662 145,240 6.3%
32. Baylor 135,817 144,732 6.6%
33. Pacific, McGeorge 149,470 144,431 -3.4%
34. Chapman 103,956 144,409 38.9%
35. Marquette 138,549 142,601 2.9%
36. Hofstra 125,300 142,261 13.5%
37. Southern California 134,673 140,745 4.5%
38. Seattle 136,889 139,745 2.1%
39. Lewis and Clark 140,025 139,624 -0.3%
40. Tulane 153,606 139,508 -9.2%
41. Duke 131,073 137,829 5.2%
42. Stanford 132,970 137,625 3.5%
43. Charleston 146,230 137,345 -6.1%
44. California-Hastings 135,886 137,157 0.9%
45. Valparaiso 131,024 136,765 4.4%
46. Mercer 138,575 135,300 -2.4%
47. Suffolk 138,724 135,272 -2.5%
48. Widener (Delaware) 136,992 135,151 -1.3%
49. Chicago 129,636 134,148 3.5%
50. Catholic 139,803 133,917 -4.2%
51. Campbell 115,128 131,894 14.6%
52. Creighton 117,980 130,145 10.3%
53. Widener (Commonwealth) 148,496 129,016 -13.1%
54. Stetson 130,079 128,703 -1.1%
55. San Diego 135,433 127,693 -5.7%
56. Samford 124,106 127,611 2.8%
57. Vanderbilt 114,447 127,434 11.3%
58. DePaul 131,148 126,446 -3.6%
59. Roger Williams 123,332 126,334 2.4%
60. Southern Methodist 124,723 126,172 1.2%
61. Seton Hall 133,000 125,300 -5.8%
62. Pace 124,823 124,317 -0.4%
63. Regent 93,142 124,221 33.4%
64. Notre Dame 122,822 123,924 0.9%
65. Yale 122,796 121,815 -0.8%
66. Western New England 121,367
67. Emory 121,278 120,804 -0.4%
68. Washington 111,003 120,554 8.6%
69. Western State 122,315 119,382 -2.4%
70. Mississippi College 129,000 119,000 -7.8%
71. Cardozo, Yeshiva 119,294 118,764 -0.4%
72. St. Mary’s 122,560 118,583 -3.2%
73. California-Los Angeles 118,874 118,291 -0.5%
74. George Mason 121,910 118,056 -3.2%
75. Penn State (Penn State Law) 129,772 117,692 -9.3%
76. Brooklyn 108,942 117,581 7.9%
77. St. John’s 115,666 117,572 1.6%
78. St. Louis 113,070 117,335 3.8%
79. Syracuse 139,753 117,127 -16.2%
80. Fordham 149,058 116,326 -22.0%
81. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] 104,200 115,405 10.8%
82. Maryland 114,493 113,927 -0.5%
83. Drake 107,679 112,893 4.8%
84. Northeastern 127,406 111,410 -12.6%
85. Penn State (Dickinson Law) 116,717 109,828 -5.9%
86. Gonzaga 125,347 109,692 -12.5%
87. Boston College 112,439 108,873 -3.2%
88. Dayton 115,740 108,724 -6.1%
89. Duquesne 104,623 108,414 3.6%
90. Baltimore 112,008 108,328 -3.3%
91. Chicago-Kent, IIT 115,040 107,688 -6.4%
92. Albany 125,157 107,185 -14.4%
93. Minnesota 92,179 106,436 15.5%
94. Washington and Lee 110,067 105,426 -4.2%
95. District of Columbia 108,095 105,330 -2.6%
96. Wake Forest 97,550 105,090 7.7%
97. Indiana (Indianapolis) 106,114 105,065 -1.0%
98. Boston University 102,329 104,755 2.4%
99. Richmond 110,665 104,624 -5.5%
100. Ohio Northern 102,414 104,284 1.8%
101. Pittsburgh 104,484 103,990 -0.5%
102. California-Davis 113,765 103,811 -8.7%
103. Texas 102,101 103,417 1.3%
104. Case Western Reserve 105,854 102,370 -3.3%
105. Oklahoma City 121,607 102,024 -16.1%
106. Quinnipiac 97,335 101,371 4.1%
107. St. Thomas (MN) 101,950 100,805 -1.1%
108. Mitchell|Hamline 108,019 100,603
109. Colorado 107,080 100,499 -6.1%
110. California-Irvine 125,473 100,408 -20.0%
111. Indiana (Bloomington) 91,020 99,895 9.8%
112. Illinois 118,731 99,782 -16.0%
113. Villanova 110,792 99,736 -10.0%
114. Louisville 86,880 99,581 14.6%
115. Massachusetts — Dartmouth 102,603 98,730 -3.8%
116. Arizona State 106,426 97,780 -8.1%
117. Nevada 81,579 97,361 19.3%
118. Houston 87,602 97,246 11.0%
119. Drexel 100,362 96,402 -3.9%
120. New Hampshire 108,896 95,650 -12.2%
121. North Carolina 102,828 95,365 -7.3%
122. Florida International 95,331 93,838 -1.6%
123. Washington University 109,232 93,768 -14.2%
124. Missouri (Kansas City) 96,639 93,678 -3.1%
125. Utah 79,124 91,982 16.3%
126. Michigan State 93,245 91,014 -2.4%
127. SUNY Buffalo 86,970 90,546 4.1%
128. Wyoming 77,421 90,231 16.5%
129. William and Mary 110,140 90,028 -18.3%
130. Lincoln Memorial 95,495 89,779 -6.0%
131. Southern University 86,708 89,552 3.3%
132. Maine 99,617 89,513 -10.1%
133. South Carolina 85,006 89,388 5.2%
134. Kansas 80,884 88,809 9.8%
135. Florida State 82,102 88,732 8.1%
136. Loyola (IL) 133,052 88,588 -33.4%
137. Ohio State 96,253 88,301 -8.3%
138. Southern Illinois 90,727 87,634 -3.4%
139. Temple 86,999 86,937 -0.1%
140. Northern Illinois 77,975 86,899 11.4%
141. Idaho 81,993 86,022 4.9%
142. Toledo 94,295 85,649 -9.2%
143. Arizona 100,902 84,601 -16.2%
144. Louisiana State 90,609 83,919 -7.4%
145. Oklahoma 82,818 83,433 0.7%
146. Akron 78,575 82,854 5.4%
147. West Virginia 85,063 82,683 -2.8%
148. Hawaii 54,988 82,510 50.1%
149. Florida 84,580 82,480 -2.5%
150. Georgia 86,515 82,199 -5.0%
151. Wayne State 82,397 81,738 -0.8%
152. Washburn 86,621 81,528 -5.9%
153. Tennessee 66,939 80,445 20.2%
154. Missouri (Columbia) 81,149 80,138 -1.2%
155. Texas Tech 74,673 80,087 7.3%
156. City University 77,751 78,523 1.0%
157. Wisconsin 84,650 77,555 -8.4%
158. Memphis 77,752 76,997 -1.0%
159. Tulsa 82,954 76,988 -7.2%
160. Alabama 74,921 75,577 0.9%
161. Cincinnati 82,988 75,512 -9.0%
162. Montana 79,304 75,470 -4.8%
163. New Mexico 69,366 75,277 8.5%
164. Northern Kentucky 84,714 74,190 -12.4%
165. Iowa 86,373 74,128 -14.2%
166. Liberty 68,667 73,857 7.6%
167. Connecticut 69,195 72,042 4.1%
168. Arkansas (Fayetteville) 64,901 67,758 4.4%
169. Mississippi 71,330 67,539 -5.3%
170. North Dakota 69,058 66,917 -3.1%
171. Arkansas (Little Rock) 68,960 65,931 -4.4%
172. Georgia State 66,637 64,384 -3.4%
173. Nebraska 58,744 62,888 7.1%
174. North Carolina Central 27,972 60,479 116.2%
175. Kentucky 77,793 59,163 -23.9%
176. Brigham Young 62,423 58,133 -6.9%
177. South Dakota 57,170 56,609 -1.0%
178. Rutgers 89,507 56,173
179. Vermont 156,710 52,682 -66.4%
180. Howard 141,044 50,920 -63.9%
181. Belmont 56,225 40,677 -27.7%
182. Loyola (LA) 124,143 39,138 -68.5%
183. South Texas 121,767 38,717 -68.2%
184. Capital 116,283 35,079 -69.8%
185. Cleveland State 93,865 29,051 -69.1%
186. Florida A&M 20,500
187. Faulkner 18,434
188. Oregon 106,540 17,834 -83.3%
10TH PERCENTILE 77,421 65,931 -16.0
25TH PERCENTILE 86,999 85,649 -6.1%
MEDIAN 112,439 105,330 -1.0%
75TH PERCENTILE 133,318 135,151 4.5%
90TH PERCENTILE 148,496 152,000 11.4%
MEAN 111,874 107,608 -2.1%

Note: Mitchell|Hamline’s 2015 entry is the bare mean average of William Mitchell’s and Hamline’s 2015 figures.

And per this post’s title, here’s the List of Shame: Law schools that chose not to submit their graduates’ debt information to U.S. News, along with their last-reported figures and the year in which they reported them. Thanks to the gainful employment rule, I was able to track down median graduate debt at three for-profits. As I am merciful, I exclude the three Puerto Rico law schools from this count.

  • Arizona Summit [Phoenix] – $178,263 [2015, median, for-profit]
  • Atlanta’s John Marshall – $161,910 [2015, median, for-profit]
  • Charlotte – $145,834 [2015, median, for-profit]
  • Touro – $154,855 (2014)
  • Southwestern – $147,976 (2012)
  • Thomas (FL) – $140,808 (2014)
  • New England – $132,246 (2013)
  • WMU Cooley – $122,395 (2012)
  • Appalachian – $114,740 (2012)
  • La Verne – $112,628 (2012)
  • Texas Southern – $99,992 (2012)
  • Concordia – NEVER
  • Indiana Tech – NEVER

These 13 law schools account for 2,282 graduates out of 36,664, or 6 percent of the total.

Normally, I would estimate the change in the weighted-average amount of debt law graduates at public and private law school take on, but because U.S. News reported absurdly high percentages of graduates with debt at each law school, I decline to make those estimates now. However, the unweighted-average private-law-school graduate debt, which is what is commonly reported, fell by 3 percent; it also fell by 4 percent at public law schools. Much of this is due to clear misreporting by law schools, some of which after all these years still report their graduates’ debt in their final year of law school.

Speaking of which, here are some curious results:

  • Fluctuations: Hawaii (+50.1%), Chapman (+38.9%), Regent (+33.4%), Whittier (+20.7%), Tennessee (+20.2%), California-Irvine (-20.0%), Fordham (-22.0%), Kentucky (-23.9%), Belmont (-27.7%), and Loyola (IL) (-33.4%).
  • Big raspberries: Howard (-63.9), Vermont (-66.4), South Texas (-68.2), Loyola (LA) (-68.5), Cleveland State (-69.1), Capital (-69.8), and Oregon (-83.3).

In all, it’s good the non-reporting count fell. Kudos to the law schools that reported this year that did not for 2015, even if I don’t believe Faulkner’s or Florida A&M’s grads finished with so little debt.

Click to read the 2015 edition, the 2014 edition, or the 2013 edition of this post.

5 Ways the Rebel Alliance Can Win Back Working Class Whites

Or…

Last Gen X American Theater Review: Star Wars: Rogue One

And oh, my, spoilers!

I don’t mean to review only Star Wars movies, but here we are. The question Rogue One raises is: Is it better than Return of the Jedi? As I write this I can’t answer, but to be clear, Rogue One is certainly better than its immediate predecessor, The Force Awakens. At the risk of digressing, that film belonged more to the J.J. Abrams nostalgia subgenre, and its relevant comparators are 8mm or the Star Trek movies. I wasn’t a fan of those, nor the subgenre at all, really, but Force Awakens is Abrams’ best contribution to it thus far. Aside from its execution, it also may have done what was necessary to resuscitate Star Wars after the odious yet painfully quotable prequels.

Yet when I saw it, I thought The Force Awakens calcified the franchise. Star Wars would never amount to more than anxious Jedi, lightsaber fights, Death Star-ers, and sidestepping the ethical question of whether the galaxy would be better off if it summarily executed the entire Skywalker hero/war-criminal family. Take that, midichlorians!!

Rogue One, though, resists the decline. It’s the first contribution since Phantom Menace to feature a novel plot—and yes, all the prequels had plots, just the same one: Palpatine manipulates people to get what he wants. He just wasn’t the central character, which is one of many reasons those movies were so awful. None of this is to say that Rogue One‘s plot is remarkably different from the original’s: “A group of galactic outcasts combines to steal the Death Star’s plans and martyrs itself while doing so” isn’t far from the same crew rescuing the princess and blowing up the Death Star. Unfortunately, I struggle to give Rogue One a final assessment, so I’ll trudge through the bits I liked, didn’t like, or noticed.

Genre

In its third act, Rogue One becomes a heist movie. Unlike a good heist movie, however, it neglects the genre’s most memorable trope: the walkthrough montage. Just after the scene where the main characters case the target, your Ocean’s Elevenses of the world invariably contain a scene where the crack team of specialists learn the exact sequence of breaking into the target and stealing the MacGuffin. Usually the montage uses a model mixed with shots of the actual location.

The walkthrough montage performs a few narrative tasks. One, it sets up the audience’s expectations of how the heist will go with the tacit promise that the story will throw a wrench into the protagonists’ plans, forcing them to adapt. The heist characters’ (or at least their leaders’) stand-out qualities are not their thievery but their resilience or their ability to see n moves ahead of the antagonists. Without the walkthrough montage, the story can capriciously throw any obstacle it wants at the characters, and their success doesn’t feel earned. This is exactly what happens in Rogue One when Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO enter the Imperial data storage center on Scarif. In typical Star Wars droid fashion K-2SO gives the odds of their success, but without a reference point, it doesn’t mean anything to the audience.

The absence of a walkthrough montage also, I suspect, relates to criticisms of the Star Wars universe’s data formats. Superficially, I’m less persuaded that it’s a problem: Star Wars straddles the digital revolution, so it’s saddled with a legacy of computer anachronisms. Asking for consistency in formats is like asking why the characters in Seinfeld don’t avoid all their follies with cell phones. I’m more impressed that Rogue One manages to be a Star Wars prequel without looking outdated in the ways the original subtly does. Thus, we’re left with a sequence where the characters make it to a weird-looking data tower without facing much resistance until later. It’s only after their claw crane busts that they must adapt—and that’s also when they start switching data formats.

Characters

Two, the walkthrough montage also summarizes the characters’ special skills, and while I liked the characters in Rogue One quite a bit, they weren’t all suited to breaking into secure Imperial installations. The movie could have done more to explain their motivations for participating in what appeared to be a suicide mission—since that was the point of the movie—similar to The Magnificent Seven. Instead, the final act of the movie devolves to action fare: Each character must perform some trivial mechanical task to complete the mission. One of them is even the Back to the Future cable-caught-on-a-stick gimmick. As with most Star Wars movies, multiple subplots converged at the ending, but they weren’t too interesting on their own until the characters died. It worked, but once I noticed the action gimmicks were happening, I felt a little bored.

Indeed, The Magnificent Seven comparison is apt because my favorite character was Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe, who was essentially Zatoichi in a Star Wars movie. On top of that, he did what I thought Disney was too timid to do: Broaden the Force beyond monotone Jedis and lightsaber fights. Îmwe devoutly believes in the Force, but he fights with … something other than a lightsaber. He doesn’t telekinetically chuck people around, and in his bespoke action sequence he must walk to a switch and pull it by hand. Wow! Îmwe lives in a Star Wars universe where doubting the Force is possible—a point I hammered in my review of the original. It’s not hard to believe in the Force when it makes you obviously superhuman.

Beyond Îmwe, I appreciated the cast’s diversity. Rogue One made it seem so normal that I didn’t really ponder it until after it ended. I was like, “Cassian has an accent. Eh. That’s Star Wars for you. At least he’s not another Imperial officer from Britain.” I also note that the other movie to address non-whiteness this winter was Hidden Figures, two films from very different genres. (I liked that one too, but I have nothing to say about it that others can’t better.)

Martyrdom, Not Marveldom

It’s said that Disney sees Star Wars as a money-maker like the Marvel-verse. The Marvel-verse, though, is pretty conventional, even if another 2016 movie, Dr. Strange, was tons of fun. The plots are driven by earth-hungry monsters and a bunch of ancient, supernatural MacGuffins. I don’t see it breaking its mold ever. Rogue One, by contrast, does. The Star Wars universe is sufficiently established to give us heroic characters and then kill them dead. These are the martyrs of the rebellion, we recite their names after Luke Skywalker gets his medal a short time later.

My hope is that Disney explores the Star Wars universe with more narrative experiments like Rogue One. I’m not asking for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Jedi, but Rogue One took risks that show there’s more to explore in Star Wars than lightsaber fights.

Other Good Stuff

Rogue One also delivers a few nuggets that don’t fit in the above. One is the Death Star. I liked how the movie subtly explained that its world-destroying weapon is essentially a bunch of lightsabers strung together. The Empire scientifically explores the faith of the Jedi, only to weaponize it. It’s a good parallel to the Oppenheimer-nuclear-bomb commentary the movie makes. I delighted to see Tarkin again, CGIed as he was, and voiced with appropriate rolling r’s. But boy do I wish they hired Wayne Pygram like in the prequels. What a waste. Tarkin’s line about not using the Death Star to make a manifesto is an excellent contrast to later blowing up Alderaan as “an effective demonstration.” Speaking of Alderaan, Jimmy Smits was similarly a welcome sight, even if it normalizes the prequels. “I must go to Alderaan (to get blown up).” (Hey, it’s not like he saw it coming.)

Other Not-So-Good Stuff

How big is the Star Wars galaxy? It’s like Jeddah, Eadu, Scarif, Yavin IV, Alderaan, and Tatooine, are all only several hours from one another. It’s a J.J. Abrams-ish flaw in a non-Abrams movie. A little down time for the characters helps extend the scope of the universe and make it more realistic. Secondly, the admiral in charge of the rebels was another Mon Calamari. Was this supposed to be a riff on Return of the Jedi, or are we really too stupid to follow a Star Wars space battle if it’s not exposited by an Admiral Akbar lookalike?

So Why Not Return of the Jedi?

As I wrote upfront, I’m weighing Rogue One against Return of the Jedi, which has until now kept its place as the third best Star Wars movie. Here’s a brief synopsis of why that movie deserves a bumping. One, Jedi‘s second Death Star is a cop out. Totally uninspired. Two, “A certain point of view?” shamelessly retcons the first movie’s insistence that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father to rationalize the reveal in Empire Strikes Back that I don’t find that interesting. Three, the case against the Ewoks has long been established. It’s also the beginning of the end of George Lucas as a serious storyteller and not a panderer to children. Want to know why the prequels suck? Look into Wicket’s eyes and tell me you don’t see Jar Jar Binks’ zygote.

The scenes with Luke, Vader, and the emperor shoulder Jedi‘s ending. (The space battle and Endor scenes don’t do much.) Its lesson is that all crimes against humanity (or sentient beings or whatever) can be forgiven if you really, really, love daddy and he’s an evil Jedi. I do like how the lightsaber fight contrasts with the one at the end of Empire Strikes Back. There, Vader was in control, testing Luke. In Jedi, Luke was in control (mostly), baffling Vader by refusing to fight. Although there isn’t much that could be done to fix those scenes, at least the movie could have ended with a political victory over the Empire than another military one. There isn’t a point where the masses of the core planets rise up on their own and dismantle the Empire.

Rogue One is rough around the edges, and it frustrates me because I grew up with Return of the Jedi and if it is to be supplanted, I want it to be an easy call. Rogue One has a scattered start, and the middle scene on Eadu doesn’t make much sense other than to deepen the characters. It picks up in the last act on Scarif and ends better than it begins. I’m not sure the Death Star-Manhattan Project relationship works well because Galen Erso isn’t a major character and is killed at the halfway point anyway. It’s either an overexpanded theme or an underexpanded plotline. Finally, while I’ve praised Rogue One for taking risks, I don’t enjoy martyrdom parables. The ending was a bit intense for me.

So … Rogue One wins. It gives me hope about the Star Wars franchise. I recognize that we still have this new Rey-Darth Emo plot arc that doesn’t inspire me much, and Rogue One‘s risks might be misunderstood and squandered by future Star Wars filmmakers, but at least we know they can make Star Wars films that are on par with the originals.

Let’s hope they do so.

CBO: $1.3 Trillion in New Federal Student Loans by 2027

Each year the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides its baseline projections for the federal student-loan program. This year it published them early with its annual “Budget and Economic Outlook.” The projections include the total amount of new federal student loans that the office believes will be disbursed, future interest rates, and subsidy costs, i.e. whether the government will make or lose money on the loans. This year, the CBO projects that the government will lend an additional $1.3 trillion to students between FY2017 and FY2027. The figure is up slightly since the 2016-2026 period, discussed here.

Subsidy Rates

The CBO uses an accrual-accounting methodology to determine the present value of federal loans. This essentially means discounting the estimated cash flows of student loans against government securities. If student loans make more money than buying government debt would, then the loans are valuable. Accrual accounting does not include the market risk that a private lender would consider when offering a student loan, which is why many people advocate fair-value accounting. It’s a surprisingly contentious issue, which I elaborate on in the student debt data page, because under most fair-value accounting estimates the government loses money on student loans.

Under accrual accounting, the CBO projects negative subsidy rates for federal student loans; that is, it sees the government profiting from its lending. All student loans issued in FY2017 will earn an estimated 13.3 percent return, about the same as last year. Of interest to law-school watchers: Unsubsidized Stafford loans and Grad PLUS loans issued in FY2017 will make 18.6 percent and 20.8 percent returns, respectively. Oddly, Parent PLUS loans appear to be the most profitable for the government.

table-2As with last year the CBO included fair-value estimates of federal student loans. By this measure, the government loses about 10 percent of its investment on student loans every year until FY2027. Unsubsidized Stafford loans and Grad PLUS loans lose about 4.5 percent in 2017, but the percentage increases over the decade. Parent PLUS loans remain profitable.

Note also that the CBO believes the net number of loans will rise during the decade. It’s already evident that federal student-loan borrowing is declining.

table-6Under accrual accounting the student loans will net the government $112.6 billion; under fair-value accounting the government will lose $133.8 billion. This isn’t a lot of money for the government, actually, but it could obviously be redirected to better uses.

Interest Rates

A crucial variable affecting subsidy rates is the CBO’s projection of future interest rates. Last year, the office believed interest rates for FY2016 would be about half a percent higher than they turned out to be. This year, the CBO estimates that interest rates will plateau at 3.5 percent starting in 2022.

projection-of-10-year-treasury-bond-interest-rates

Last year, I argued that the interest-rate estimates were more plausible than two years earlier. That was, however, before the election, and now the rate on 10-year government bonds is much higher than before. As a result, student debtors will probably pay higher rates starting in the next academic year, and the accrual method will produce higher future profits for the government that are probably illusory.

Blogger Discredited: Law Students Not Aging (on Average)

The blogger being … yours truly. A few years ago, I asserted on The American Lawyer that high-end LSAT scores were falling not because smart people were avoiding law school but because younger people were. I was trying to push back against the notion that young people are law-school lemmings. I think I was ultimately right about the LSAT scores but for other reasons, as I’ll discuss later.

In the meantime, here’s how we know I was wrong. The LSAC tracks law-school applicants by their ages. It last analyzed the data in 2010, and I thought it would only take two or three years until the next update. Well, the LSAC dragged its heels and kept a long-outdated pdf on its data Web page. I’m not sure why; the new numbers don’t show anything damning. Anyway, I noticed that the LSAC finally updated its applicant age data, so here you go:

percent-applicants-by-age-bracket

2010 is blank because the LSAC didn’t bother releasing that information, which is what happens when you’re slow and disorganized.

Using 2009 as the base year (because that’s the last applicant peak we have), we find a very modest shift in applicant age brackets. Among applicants in 2015, about 2.1 percent fewer were under the age of thirty while 2.1 percent more were over thirty. The biggest contributors are 25-29-year-olds and the over 40 bracket, respectively. Although half the cumulative decline in applicants since 2009 can be attributed to the 22-24 bracket, they take up about half the applicant pool. Other brackets also declined proportionally.

Other findings: Acceptance rates have risen in all brackets, which isn’t surprising, and for the most part the number of accepted applicants who didn’t matriculate fell. Starting in 2014, more women applied to law school than men. (LSAC applicant age data don’t always correspond perfectly to its other datasets, so this finding might not be precise.)

So why the decline in high-end LSATs? As the alt-fact-mongering Law School Truth Center taught me a couple years ago, the LSAT is an equated test, so declines in test takers proportionately reduce scores. As a result, fewer people will get high (and low) LSAT scores. The end.