CBO: IBR/PAYE to Cost Gov’t $39 Billion Over Ten Years

Most people know better than to read through the Congressional Budget Office’s annual “Budget and Economic Outlook,” which was released last week. Not me, though.

Student loans play a subtle roll in these kinds of reports, and this year’s offers an interesting twist. In Appendix A, which concerns the changes since August to the CBO’s baseline projection, on page 113 (pdf 119) it states:

CBO increased its projection of outlays for federal student loans by $39 billion over the 2015–2024 period. That increase is primarily attributable to higher projections of participation in repayment plans that are based on a borrower’s income. Under those plans, the government forgives the loans of borrowers who meet certain criteria, so they cost more than other repayment plans.


Don’t worry too much though, the office still believes that there’s an overall negative subsidy to the student loan system thanks to its accrual accounting methodology. I’m a rare liberal who thinks fair-value accounting works better. I think the opponents of FVA confuse the government’s enormous borrowing power with the belief that it never spends money recklessly.

The CBO’s specific estimates of the federal student loan system will be out later, but I suspect this stray statement will be used by Wall Street Journal types to argue that IBR/PAYE is a “debt forgiveness program” for wastrel college students rather than a monthly payment reduction program that it’s largely intended to be. At least people can’t say that it’s a student debtor shakedown to extend standard repayment plans. This whole student loan thing is going to get uglier and not end well. I’m not excited about it.

Shifting gears, another place student debt rears its hideous visage is in household formation. On page 36 (42), the CBO tells us that “[S]tudent loans have rendered some young adults unable or unwilling to obtain a mortgage.” Brookings Institution people, take note.

But for some reason the CBO thinks household formation will surge ahead.

CBO Household Formation Projection

The CBO’s only reason for optimism is “better prospects for jobs” and easier access to mortgages, yet it concedes that in recent years household formation has not been linked to employment gains as it has been in the past.

Looking at the employment-population ratio for 25-54-year-old Americans, there’s but slim reason to be hopeful. It’s risen two percentage points since October 2011, but it needs to go up five more points to return to its 2000 peak. I don’t think the current trajectory is compatible with rapid growth in household formation. On the other hand, two percentage points is probably more than I would’ve predicted a couple years ago.

Civilian Employment-Working Age Population Ratio

Without new households, vacancy rates will stay high (though there are regional variations I’ll not speculate on at this time), so expectations of higher future land values will stay suppressed. This doesn’t bode well.

Japan Times Op-Ed Misdiagnoses U.S. Legal Education

Walt Gardner sends “Japanese and U.S. Law Schools at a Crossroads” to The Japan Times.

Regular readers should be familiar with my opinion on Japan’s failed, futile expansion of its legal education establishment: When criticized for over-emulating the U.S. law school system, it acquiesces when it should double-down on all the arguments their U.S. counterparts give.

But Gardner has his own opinions:

In the United States, the 200 American Bar Association’s accredited law schools are questioning whether too much emphasis is placed on the theoretical over the practical. Possession of a law degree does not necessarily mean graduates are ready to provide legal services, even though three-year tuition can exceed $150,000.

As a result, the number of applicants is down by more than 37 percent compared to 2010. The future is no brighter. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be some 21,880 new jobs for lawyers by 2020 but more than 45,000 graduates by then.

The practical training thing has always been a red herring. What’s important is jobs. Taking Gardner’s numbers as true, we find that there are too many law graduates relative to the number of lawyer job openings. Being well-trained for jobs that don’t exist doesn’t create jobs.

Meditate on that wisdom, Grasshopper.

Gardner, for his part, recommends law schools in both countries “raise their standards to admit even far fewer students” and toughen bar exams.

In the U.S., it would seem, law schools are efficient charities that don’t waste student loans and will self-terminate rather than accept students who have little hope of entering the profession or passing the bar. I had no idea.

Incidentally, does anyone know where this “practical training solution” myth came from? I keep seeing it without any question, as though admitting that there is an oversupply problem will anger Zeus enough to chuck a thunderbolt at you.

Gardner concludes:

The Ministry of Education and Science, which has been accused of being too lax, in accrediting law schools, could take a page from the ABA … in order to protect the integrity of a law degree. Too much is at stake for the Ministry to sit idly by.

Indeed. Thanks to the ABA’s tough standards that Japan should emulate, there are barely 200 law schools scraping by to keep their accreditation. The deans’ nights are sleepless before ABA site visits, and they tremble and stammer whenever the Imperial Accreditors interrogate them about the most trivial infractions.

In the real world, I can only think of three law schools that have lost their accreditation or were denied it in the last few decades. The ABA resisted Western State’s bid because it was a for-profit; it rescinded La Verne’s accreditation because of its graduates’ low bar pass rate, and then reapproved it without explanation; and it denied Lincoln Memorial’s bid in late 2011 only to change its mind last summer.

But the problem isn’t that the standards are too lax, it’s that we don’t need postbaccalaureate legal education. Same goes for Japan, even though it has a different type of legal system. Jobs should come first, and mandatory training should be kept to a minimum. It doesn’t make for an interesting editorial, I guess.

On The American Lawyer: Applying to Top Law Schools Disserved Many in 2014

Applying to Top Law Schools Disserved Many in 2014.”

It really is one of the most unusual things I’ve seen in my few years writing on legal education. Like, where did these applicants get it into their heads that U.S. News‘ darlings were desperate? Hope they did well though.

Law School Gives Away Free Money to Non-Students (More 509 Errata)

Today’s raspberry goes to Duquesne which reports that 117 percent of its full-time students received a grant.

Free Money at Duquesne

My hunch is that there were only 231 full-time students who received less-than-half-tuition grants last year rather than 331. The typo then compounded within the table since so many of the information reports’ numbers are just calculations and not hand-entered data themselves.

Other notables are Texas A&M (formerly Wesleyan), which amped up its scholarships to the extent that only 6 percent of its students are paying full tuition, way down from 57 percent two years ago. New Hampshire’s final year as a private law school also saw a large reduction in full-time students paying full tuition: 21 percent to 8 percent.

Otherwise, the 2013-14 academic year saw another precipitous drop in the percentage of full-time law students paying full tuition.

Percent Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition

Perhaps this year only one-third of the enrollment at a typical law school is paying full freight. Like, maybe I should consider moving the blog to a more descriptive title.

Moving on to the topic of private law school tuition, which is easier to research because most of the time it’s not possible to distinguish resident from nonresident students at public law schools, we can see the plummeting reliance on full-tuition students—as well as revenue from that source.

Mean No. Full-Time Private Law School Students by Grant Received

Aggregate Revenue From Full-Time Private Law School Students Paying Full-Tuition

(These charts exclude Brigham Young because like most public law schools, we can’t know how many students are paying discounted LDS tuition.)

In all, private legal education lost nearly $450 million in annual full tuition revenue since 2011. It now makes less than in 2002. We keep hearing about how resilient law schools are to closing, but when I see this stuff I think that this just can’t go on forever.

Finally, for those curious about the dispersions of students receiving the median grant and how much that’s worth, I’ve come up with a new way of displaying that information: full-tuition quintiles. It occurred to me that simply showing median discounted tuition isn’t useful because an expensive law school can give a large discount while a cheap law school can discount by very little to get to roughly the same price tag. By treating full tuition as the independent variable (and because law schools tend to stay within the same full-tuition quintiles), I can give you a much better idea of how much the median discount is worth. The following charts use the intra-quintile mean average to give a broad picture of what’s going on.

Percent Private Law School Students Receiving Median Grant by Full Tuition Quintile Mean

Full-Time Private Law School Tuition and Median Discounted Tuition by Tuition Quintile Mean

Interestingly, a lot of the action in recent years appears to be within the third and fourth quintiles, which charge the same median discounted tuition to the same percentage of students—but schools in the fourth quintile are able to charge higher full tuition. Perhaps this is where competition over students is fiercest. In general, though, median discounted tuition in all quintiles ranges between 59 and 65 percent of full tuition. Back in 2002, the range was 82 to 91 percent.

If you’re curious what quintile a law school belonged in last year, just look at the tuition data page and compare to this table:

1 $22,560 $36,662
2 $36,994 $40,486
3 $40,890 $44,465
4 $44,520 $48,190
5 $48,730 $57,838

I believe this will be my last analysis of the information reports because I’ve covered all the topics I usually write on. Happy MLK Jr. Day, Americans.

BLS: One in Four Lawyers to Switch Occupations by 2022

…And if you know what that means, great, because there’re plenty of caveats I have to lay out for everyone else.

Steven Harper inspires me to check up on how things are going with the BLS’s proposed rule-change for estimating occupational replacement rates; there was an update on January 2nd. Apparently, the Employment Projections program released a spreadsheet with experimental 2012-2022 replacement and separations data alongside the numbers from the current methodology. I don’t think it was there before, but the BLS says it was. If so I wish I’d noticed it earlier as it’s quite interesting.

For one, my hunch in my American Lawyer article was correct: Under the new methodology between 2012 and 2022, 339,800 out of 759,800 lawyers would be replaced, and the growth rate, which is what we should be caring about because it’s not zero sum, doesn’t get changed. I like getting the numbers right. (Okay, I was off by a thousand.)

For another, the BLS goes further than I expected by separating the total occupational replacement rate into “labor force exits” and “occupational transfers,” which mean as they sound. Labor force exits are certainly going to include most retirements but also people exiting for parental leave and other, less common personal reasons. The labor force exit rate for lawyers is 17.1 percent, which compares strikingly well with the current methodology’s 16 percent replacement rate.

As for occupational transfers, as this post’s title states, it’s 25.5 percent. That’s the concept I’ve been most concerned about all along. These are lawyers who are leaving the profession for different types of jobs. To be clear, some of these transfers are preferable and some not. It includes lawyers who become judges with lawyers who become retail sales clerks. The interesting comparison—and the best I can give you—is with other occupations that require doctoral or professional degrees, sorted by size and occupational transfer rate.

Animal scientists 19-1011 33.3% 54.3% 22.2% 76.4%
Biochemists and biophysicists 19-1021 28.5% 54.1% 18.0% 72.1%
Medical scientists, except epidemiologists 19-1042 21.1% 51.3% 14.5% 65.9%
Computer and information research scientists 15-1111 15.7% 44.9% 11.2% 56.1%
Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists 19-3031 27.2% 42.1% 24.1% 66.3%
Physicists 19-2012 24.5% 38.8% 19.1% 57.9%
Astronomers 19-2011 24.5% 38.8% 19.1% 57.9%
Judicial law clerks 23-1012 16.2% 35.4% 27.5% 62.9%
Postsecondary teachers, all other 25-1199 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Health specialties teachers, postsecondary 25-1071 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Business teachers, postsecondary 25-1011 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
English language and literature teachers, postsecondary 25-1123 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Education teachers, postsecondary 25-1081 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Biological science teachers, postsecondary 25-1042 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Mathematical science teachers, postsecondary 25-1022 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Psychology teachers, postsecondary 25-1066 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Engineering teachers, postsecondary 25-1032 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Computer science teachers, postsecondary 25-1021 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Communications teachers, postsecondary 25-1122 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Foreign language and literature teachers, postsecondary 25-1124 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary 25-1126 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
History teachers, postsecondary 25-1125 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Chemistry teachers, postsecondary 25-1052 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Recreation and fitness studies teachers, postsecondary 25-1193 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Political science teachers, postsecondary 25-1065 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Sociology teachers, postsecondary 25-1067 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Law teachers, postsecondary 25-1112 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Physics teachers, postsecondary 25-1054 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Economics teachers, postsecondary 25-1063 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary 25-1111 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences teachers, postsecondary 25-1051 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Agricultural sciences teachers, postsecondary 25-1041 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Area, ethnic, and cultural studies teachers, postsecondary 25-1062 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Social sciences teachers, postsecondary, all other 25-1069 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Social work teachers, postsecondary 25-1113 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Architecture teachers, postsecondary 25-1031 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Anthropology and archeology teachers, postsecondary 25-1061 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Environmental science teachers, postsecondary 25-1053 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Geography teachers, postsecondary 25-1064 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Library science teachers, postsecondary 25-1082 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Forestry and conservation science teachers, postsecondary 25-1043 15.0% 34.1% 32.9% 67.0%
Lawyers 23-1011 16.0% 25.5% 17.1% 42.6%
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates 23-1023 16.0% 25.5% 17.1% 42.6%
Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers 23-1021 16.0% 25.5% 17.1% 42.6%
Physical therapists 29-1123 24.6% 23.6% 15.2% 38.8%
Pharmacists 29-1051 23.9% 20.5% 16.8% 37.4%
Audiologists 29-1181 20.7% 20.0% 14.5% 34.5%
Veterinarians 29-1131 32.1% 16.6% 14.5% 31.1%
Physicians and surgeons, all other 29-1069 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Family and general practitioners 29-1062 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Internists, general 29-1063 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Surgeons 29-1067 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Anesthesiologists 29-1061 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Pediatricians, general 29-1065 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Psychiatrists 29-1066 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Obstetricians and gynecologists 29-1064 25.0% 14.4% 14.6% 29.0%
Optometrists 29-1041 29.0% 14.0% 19.6% 33.6%
Chiropractors 29-1011 19.6% 13.6% 13.1% 26.8%
Dentists, general 29-1021 24.4% 12.7% 15.6% 28.3%
Orthodontists 29-1023 24.4% 12.7% 15.6% 28.3%
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons 29-1022 24.4% 12.7% 15.6% 28.3%
Dentists, all other specialists 29-1029 24.4% 12.7% 15.6% 28.3%
Prosthodontists 29-1024 24.4% 12.7% 15.6% 28.3%
Podiatrists 29-1081 20.7% 12.1% 11.1% 23.3%

I didn’t include it, but some of the occupations at the top with high turnover are quite tiny. There are only 2,700 animal scientists, for example, so my guess is there are still problems with the data. You’ll also note that many of the stats tend to clump together by occupation types, e.g. the 33 postsecondary instructor classes, which all have the same replacement rates, for both the new and old methodologies.

But the real money is in comparisons among the professional occupations, which are generally doctors, dentists, and lawyers. Lawyers’ occupational transfer rate is double doctors’ and dentists’. The medical occupations’ replacement rates under the current methodology are only a few percentage points lower than the total occupational separation rate under the new one, but the same can’t be said for attorneys’.

I’m not sure how reliable these experimental data are, but they do tend to show that there’s more turnover for lawyers than the other professions they’re most often compared to. (Ironically there’s even more turnover for postsecondary law instructors.) And I’m not even getting into job quality. I wouldn’t say this is especially strong evidence of a high turnover rate for lawyers, but it’s another piece that fits in that puzzle.

The BLS (still) says it’ll give us another update early this year, but I hope to write on other topics.

10 Ways to Falsify Law Graduate Employment Doomsayers

I begin 2015’s first substantive post by invoking the right of listicle clickbait.

A loose end from December is Loyola Law School, Los Angeles professor Theodore Seto’s response to my American Lawyer article on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ proposed change to how it measures the replacement rate for lawyers. For Professor Seto, I have good news and better news.

The good news is that when he writes that he’s flattered that I’d respond to his article, he need not be. Of course I was going to write on the topic for The American Lawyer anyway, but his first article usefully illustrated the kind of thinking I cautioned against when I broke the story in early November.

The better news is that his closing line raises an interesting question worthy of further consideration. He writes:

But we should all remember (myself included) that the best legal counselors, when faced with new evidence, adjust their advice accordingly. They do not simply attack the evidence.

Let’s not discuss whether I was attacking new evidence. Readers can compare my article to Seto’s for themselves. Instead, if I interpret Seto fairly here (and he says I didn’t do that for his other article, so I tread lightly), he’s implying that I or perhaps others make unfalsifiable claims about the future of law graduate employment—that we unfairly dismiss any favorable news about graduates’ prospects because it contradicts our dogmatic positions that law school is a poor decision in probably most circumstances.

If so, he’s incorrect. My beliefs are falsifiable, and because the topic of falsifiability arose on this blog two more times in the last month, I’m inspired to write on it. So, here’s a list of events one could point to (and would probably need to) to predict that things will be better for grads in 2016.

(1)  The absolute number of graduates in the classes of 2014 and 2015 employed in full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required, non-school-funded jobs rises. No one disputes that employment percentages will improve on account of there being fewer graduates, but the best way to show that graduates are finding jobs is … showing that graduates are finding jobs. Similarly, I’d like to see evidence that grads are finding better jobs. That could be the NALP reporting that grads are shifting into lawyer jobs at law firms larger than the 2-10 bracket, though 2013 toed in the right direction.

No. Graduates Employed by Size of Firm (NALP)

You can slag biglaw all you want, but it tends to pay better. Likewise, wage growth in the 25th percentile for law grads is absolutely necessary if anyone wants to convince me that law school is better than going back to college for a more lucrative bachelor’s degree, but technically that’s a slightly different issue.

* Note: At this time I’m not too concerned that the ABA’s decision to give law schools a tenth month to report their graduate employment data will substantially impair any comparisons to previous years.

Continue reading

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: December 2014 Edition

And the LSAC said, “Let there be growth!” and it was so. A whole 0.8 percent more people (222 souls) took the LSAT last month than in December 2013. The calendar year total is 100,829, which is about 4,500 fewer administrations than the previous year. The decline for 2013 was about half what it was the year before, so we might be bottoming out.

No. LSAT Takers, 4-Testing Period Moving Sum

It’s the second time since the LSAT plunge began in October 2010 that we’ve seen a year-over-year growth in test-takers. The last one was in February 2014, which was a larger, 1.1 percent increase. There will probably be more declines in the future, but at some point in the next few years it will stabilize. I doubt it’ll start growing though.

Meanwhile, week 1 has come and gone, and I can finally give you a trend path for applicants and applications for fall 2015.

No. Applicants Over App Cycle

No. Applications Over App Cycle

It looks like 5,000 fewer applicants is what we can expect for this year. I say again that these numbers still look too high, and I’m surprised that more people aren’t deterred from law school.


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