Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Non-élite colleges have been scams for decades

Those of a certain age may remember Paul Fussell's amusing book Class: A guide through the American status system, from 1983. Fussell breaks US society into nine classes, plus a non-class called X, according to the tastes and ambitions that are typical of each. Diet, dress, décor, hobbies, language—each is linked to a class's distinctive trait, be it the carefree self-assurance of the upper-middle class, the simpering conventionality of the middle class, or the fearful striving of the high proles. Forty years after publication, it is still good for a few chuckles.

It is Chapter VI, "The Life of the Mind", that concerns us here at OTLSS. The higher-education scam turns out to be nothing new (at 132–33):

The assumption that "a college degree" means something without the college's being specified is woven so deeply into the American myth that it dies very hard, even when confronted with the facts of the class system and its complicity with the hierarchies of the higher learning. For example: Vance Packard, in The Status Seekers, was persuaded as late as 1959 that the idea of "a college diploma" carried sufficient meaning to justify the class designation "the Diploma Elite." Quite wrong. To represent affairs accurately, you'd have to designate an "Elite Diploma Elite," because having a degree from Amherst or Williams or Harvard or Yale should never be confused with having one from Eastern Kentucky University or Hawaii Pacific College or Arkansas State or Bob Jones.… As late as 1972 Packard is still taking that rosy egalitarian view and thus still making the same essential mistake. In A Nation of Strangers he writes cheerfully, "In 1940 about 13 percent of college-age young people actually went to college; by 1970 it was about 43 percent." But no. It was still about 13 percent, the other 30 percent attending things merely denominated colleges. These poor kids and their parents were performing the perpetual American quest not for intellect but for respectability and status.

Indeed, college/university was long ago decoupled from intellect—something not especially common at Harvard and Yale—and reduced to a status-seeking device. When Fussell wrote those words, a bachelor's degree was still decidedly a luxury, the high-school diploma having only recently become de rigueur. About six years later, however, the BA was being billed as essential: one could not expect to find decent work without it. From that time on, young people have been herded into the universities whether or not they have any intellectual ambitions, or even two functioning brain cells to rub together. 

Fussell rudely hits the nail on the head with the observation that "the only meaningful educational distinction today is that between the college-educated and the 'college'-educated" (at 133). The scare quotes imply a correct sneer upon those many institutions—more than two thousand already in Fussell's day—that can politely be called non-selective but that over the past several decades have caparisoned themselves with the name "college" or "university". What we might call toilet colleges—the great majority—thrive on a reputation earned in generations past but no longer deserved. "[T]he statement 'He (or she) is a college graduate,' … long years ago, might have carried some weight. But by the 1950s the scene had changed.… The word [college] remained unchanged while the reality altered drastically" (at 132).

Cui bono? More to the point, cui malo? Referring pointedly to "the college swindle" and "the great college-and-status hoodwink" (at 134), Fussell harbors no illusions (at 133–34):

One of the saddest social groups today consists of that 30 percent that during the 1950s and 1960s struggled to "go to college" and thought they'd done that, only to find their prolehood still unredeemed, and not merely intellectually, artistically, and socially, but economically as well. In Social Standing in America, Coleman and Rainwater found that going to a good college—or in my view, a real one—increased one's income by 52 percent, while going to a really good one … increased it by an additional 32 percent over that. But they found that you achieved "no income advantage" if you graduated from a "nonselective" college… No income advantage at all.

The rich fill the élite academies, while "'[t]he newly arrived, eager, upwardly mobile person,' says Leonard Reissman, 'sweaty from his climb up the class ladder, wipes his brow and learns that the doors to full recognition and acceptance are still closed to him" (at 134). Consequently, "the effect of the whole system is to stabilize class rigidity under the color of opening up genuine higher learning to everyone" (ibid).

Fussell locates this college swindle "largely during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations" (at 135), when hundreds upon hundreds of institutions of a vocational rather than an academic character springboarded themselves into the ranks of "universities", for which status they were quite ill prepared. This "unearned promotion … was simply an acceleration of a process normal in this country—inflation, hyperbole, bragging" (ibid).

Hovering above this heap of unduly elevated institutions is an élite group, generously as many as 200 strong, that do confer some cachet. Columbia and the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Swarthmore and Carlow College, exist in a dialectical, heads-and-tails unity of opposites. The Dartmouth sweatshirt says as much as the bumper sticker for Eureka College. Indeed, "colleges and universities are the current equivalent of salons and levees and courts" (at 141).

Fussell's book is contemporaneous with the notorious "rankings" of You Ass News, which somehow crowned itself supreme authority on the relative merits of allegedly academic institutions. Those "rankings" filled, and fill, a socially constructed need for reducing prestige to a single handy-dandy metric. Thus we hear fools gloat of attending the 179th best college, or the 38th best law school. (Incidentally, genuflecting to authority betrays the middle class, according to Fussell.) The élite academies pack their cohorts principally with the scions of the top three classes (top-out-of-sight, upper, upper-middle); the middle class and the three "prole" classes are stuck with Zero College and East Bumblefuck University. These no-account establishments may seek the bubble reputation through a male football or basketball team, but that too has its limits, and only a few dozen can attain the athletic veneer of respectability. No matter: none of them offers real intellectual or aesthetic fulfillment, nor even much potential for a decent job.

People who 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago would never have gone beyond high school (and might well not have graduated) now scheme for a college as high up the You Ass News "rankings" as possible. Yet from position 200 or so to the end there is no real difference in prestige: they are toilets, one and all. Unfortunately, this information is not widely known or understood, so undistinguished schools flourish at the expense of ambitious but misguided members of the public.

The same is true of law schools. As many as thirteen (Harvard and Yale above all others) may confer genuine prestige; the rest, only a fake prestige if any at all. Although there is real potential for an enterprising person of humble background to land at a Harvard or a Michigan, monetizing the degree may prove difficult—and boasting about a prestigious law school won't pay the bills.

The proliferation of law schools and universities is no eleemosynary project; it is a quest for profit in a day bereft of such traditional options as factory work. There may be twenty lousy schools for every one of recognized merit. Serial "rankings" by the likes of You Ass News delude the public into supposing that schools stand on a continuum, when really they fall into two groups: an élite and all the rest. This was true in the 1950s, according to Fussell, and today it is true in spades. Do not fall for non-selective undergraduate institutions or law schools.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Inflated earnings, Part MMMCMLXXVIII: Back to the old $160k claims

One might wonder how U.S. News, which Old Guy has rechristened You Ass News, came to be recognized as arbiter of matters pertaining to the commercial side of legal education, in particular the choice of a law school and the promotion of the law-school scam to the general public. After all, You Ass News has no expertise in the area; it couldn't even keep its magazine afloat.

A new scam-promoting piece in You Ass News, "What Type of Salary Can You Expect with a Law Degree?", takes us back fifteen years to that time when just about every ABA-accredited law school claimed an average salary of $160k for its graduates. It's all peaches and cream for people with fresh JDs, one would think after reading this dithyramb to that Million-Dollar Degree™. 

Median starting salaries for those in private practice range from $155,000 in firms with 100 or fewer lawyers to $215,000 in firms of 1000 lawyers or more, "according to a report recently published by the National Association for Law Placement, an association of more than 3,000 legal career professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices and law schools". This information is at least suspect. First, it is published by a group of "legal career professionals"—people whose bread and butter come from the law-school scam. (Why are "more than 3,000 legal career professionals" needed, if well-paying opportunities for lawyers abound?) They can hardly be expected to publish information that might shrink their future clientele. Second, the claim that law firms with 100 or fewer lawyers have a median starting salary of $155,000 cannot be correct, since the vast majority of firms in that category are tiny ones with only a handful of lawyers (often only one) and no ability to pay such fancy salaries. Old Guy isn't going to waste money on the "report" in which this claim appears, but the press release at the link above—yes, a press release, touting high salaries—shows that only 29 firms in that category provided information about starting salaries and that only 26 cities, all large, were considered. The urban restriction itself renders the selection unrepresentative, and it seems likely that the firms surveyed were on the large end (where placements would generate fees for the "legal career professionals"), not two-lawyer offices.

The article creates the illusion of choice by presenting various options as if they were realistically attainable—delicacies on a menu placed before discerning JD-anointed toileteers. A tout for the National Association for Law Placement advises that "[a] student taking a $100,000 position in Indianapolis is going to have a better standard of living than a student receiving a $250,000 salary in New York City because of the cost of living in those places." Perhaps (I rather doubt it), but the vast majority of new graduates won't be offered either position, let alone both. Likewise, the assertion that the public-interest sector pays around $50k at first comes unaccompanied with any information about the dearth of positions and the stiff competition for them. Indeed, many positions in "public interest" are unpaid.

Only two notes of caution, both soft-pedaled, are sounded anywhere in this article. One states that "law firms are notoriously stingy" about benefits, something that might lead one to take a job in government instead. But the option will not arise unless one actually gets an offer of a job in government, which, for the great majority of law students, is a very big if. The other points out "that top 14 law schools, often referred to as “T14,” are more likely to have graduates who work in bigger law firms". That's true, but the rest of the article implies that those outside the T14 can settle for $155,000 or so—something that is not true at all. 

Nowhere does one read about the high rate of unemployment among recent graduates of law school—several times that of the general public, which doesn't take on a six-figure amount of non-dischargeable debt at high interest for the privilege of being out of a job. Nor is anything said about starting salaries in "business and industry", a category calculated to inspire thoughts of management but more likely to involve flipping hamburgers or gathering shopping carts.

If called out for this deception, scamsters and their bitches would hide behind the claim that they have only presented data that are necessarily incomplete. Wrong: they purport to answer the question "What Type of Salary Can You Expect with a Law Degree?" By suggesting that new graduates can expect such fancy salaries, without the slightest reference to the likelihood of having to sling hash at a fast-food dive or being outright unemployed, this piece misleads the public. And since the facts of the law-school scam are well known to those who have been selling their "rankings" and other scam-promoting propaganda for more than a third of a century, it can fairly be concluded that they have willfully engaged in deception.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Golden Gate not closing quite yet, unfortunately

The board of Golden Gate Univershitty recently voted to keep the über-toilet law school open for another year, at least.

The über-toilet pledges "to ensure at a minimum that all currently enrolled and entering students will continue to receive their scholarships and be able to receive an ABA-accredited degree". That sounds like an intention to shut up shop. Why else refer to "currently enrolled and entering students"? The faculty have already been warned that layoffs may be in store. Those with brains would have figured that out long ago: a school with major financial problems, trifling revenue, and a rapidly shrinking student body cannot sustain a bloated staff of scam-professors.

ABA accreditation is not within Golden Gate's control. In 2021, the über-toilet was found to be out of compliance with the ABA's low standard for passing the bar exam: at least 75% of those graduates who take a bar exam must pass one within two years, yet at Golden Gate the rate in 2019 was 67%. The ABA notoriously hands out exceptions like breath mints, to the point that its "standards" lose their meaning. Old Guy expects that the ABA will give Golden Gate the usual dispensation if necessary—unless the ABA needs to appear principled and decisive for a change, in which case it may well crack down on this über-toilet, which is headed for closure anyway.

Golden Gate had to bribe its new full-time students, one and all, with free tuition, even while being desperately short of money. Plans to raise operating funds by selling some land in downtown San Francisco failed when prices declined sharply.

The university refused to state the number of students, but the head of the Student Bar Association reported "about 200". That's about 70 per class, which isn't very many: Old Guy has previously estimated a minimum of 75 per year for the long-term survival of a law school.

Since the parent institution "has been fighting to stay afloat in recent years", the last thing that it needs is a money-losing über-toilet law school. Perhaps it would gladly shut the law school down today if not for potential liability. The ABA requires a "teach-out plan" of any law school that intends to close down: this serves to keep the students from being left high and dry in a sudden closure. Über-toilets such as Charlotte and Arizona Summit have suddenly bolted the doors, but they had no parent institution that needed to worry about survival and possible litigation. 

Take this bit of news as a shameful admission by Golden Gate that its über-toilet law school will soon join the ranks of Indiana Tech, Valpo, and the InfiLaw trio. Any bets on the next school to close?

Monday, June 26, 2023

Golden Gate's gilding flakes off: über-toilet struggles to survive

A few days ago, the board of trustees at Golden Gate University met to discuss the fate of its über-toilet law school, which faces both serious financial problems and the risk of losing ABA accreditation. Indeed, it seems difficult to address either problem without making the other worse.

As we reported here at OTLSS, last autumn's full-time entering class got free tuition. Since Golden Gate's financial position hardly enables it to dispense charity, this move was obviously intended to bribe students with higher potential to pass the exam. "See, ABA? Now we've barely met the standard." Whereupon the ABA would rubber-stamp the über-toilet. Of course, Golden Gate cannot operate forever at zero tuition, so it would go back to charging fees, the quality of the class would sink again, and after a few years there would be another notice of non-compliance and another round of free tuition… Indiana Tech tried the same thing, and folded a year later. Old Guy knows of only one school that pulled it off: UC Irvine, when it opened. That was an unusual case, with financial and institutional backing from the enormous UC system. It also lasted only one year (well, the following two classes got smaller discounts), and, incidentally, it failed to achieve the desired result of springboarding Irvine into the top 20 by the "ranking" of You Ass News.

According to the article cited above, Golden Gate had hoped to drum up some money by selling off buildings in downtown San Francisco "and optimiz[ing] its physical space requirements" (read: making do with a lot less). A downturn in the real-estate market, however, is likely to leave Golden Gate with less cash than it had hoped to receive.

It appears that the dean was quietly replaced just before the board's recent meeting. Sudden changes such as this are common at dying über-toilets.

The article also mentions a "distressingly low" employment rate of only 38% for the latest graduating class, coupled with "a projected debt of around $283,000 per student". Old Guy is not a bit surprised that people ass enough to borrow that much money on non-dischargeable loans at high interest struggle to find work as lawyers. I certainly wouldn't hire a lawyer who was that stupid.

Expect to hear the death knell toll for Golden Gate very soon. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Happy 10th birthday to Outside the Law School Scam

Outside the Law School Scam is about to celebrate its tenth birthday: it was founded on February 27, 2013.

When we started this site, not a single law school had closed down in many years. We predicted that ten would be gone by the end of the decade. That prediction came to pass, and by now fifteen law schools have taken a one-way trip to Hell:

Cooley (one campus)

Hamline (merged with Mitchell)

Indiana Tech





Arizona Summit

Cooley (a second campus)

Thomas Jefferson (relinquished ABA accreditation in favor of state accreditation)

La Verne (relinquished ABA accreditation in favor of state accreditation)


Cooley (a third campus)

Florida Coastal (and with it InfiLaw)

Penn State Law (or maybe Dickinson—one or the other will be closing)

This humble site has been cited in the mainstream media and other publications. It has done much both to dissuade people from attending scam-schools and to foster public discourse on the law-school scam. Its material has been read more than 3.3 million times. We have had fun with original poems and other art, and we have singled some particularly vile scamsters out for public denunciation and (where appropriate) ridicule. Undeniably, we have had a hand in the decline of the law-school scam and the closure of various über-toilet law schools. People have also thanked us for saving them from the mistake of enrolling at a scam-school—or attending law school at all.

Our work, however, is far from complete. Four or five new über-toilets have been announced in the past year or two. And although many über-toilets have shrunk to a mere fraction of their former sizes, and quite a few are in financial or administrative peril, the law-school scam has shown resilience. Attacking the federally guaranteed student loans that make the law-school scam possible will remain a priority.

Many happy returns of the day to Outside the Law School Scam!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Software passes exams at "prestigious" U of Minnesota Law

A piece of software called ChatGPT passed four out of four exams at the law school of the U of Minnesota. Most of the questions were multiple choice (a format that was not used at Old Guy's élite law school), but many required essays, and on some of the latter ChatGPT scored in the top half of the class.

The authors of the article cited above suggest that ChatGPT may be useful to practicing lawyers. Without wishing to boast, Old Guy admits that he has a reputation for writing excellent briefs (some lawyers call them the best in the jurisdiction), and he would never use a tool of this kind. It is evident from the article, and quite predictable, that the software just looked through material on the Internet and pieced it together into text, without understanding what was asked. Although the text was perfectly grammatical (which is more than can be said for that of many students), it gave no real analysis: it would often cite an authority on a point of law, but it would not analyze the applicability of the authority to the case or even offer clear conclusions or advice. (There appears to be a mode in which it gives definitive or at least assertive answers; that was disabled for the purposes of this experiment.) Old Guy will continue to write his briefs the old-fashioned way—by himself.

(It must be said that useful software packages known as expert systems have been around for many decades. An expert system asks questions of the user in an attempt to solve problems. These have been developed to assist physicians with obscure diagnoses. Conceivably they could help lawyers to explore options for litigation. Again, Old Guy relies on his own abilities. He can sometimes come up with a creative solution that would escape 99%+ of lawyers and that would probably elude software as well.)

The authors also suggest that students are likely to use tools such as ChatGPT, either to prepare for exams or to cheat on them. A student running short of time, for instance, could submit a question to ChatGPT rather than giving no answer at all. That would clearly constitute cheating (unless, improbably, the professor invited computer-generated answers). More profitably, the student might generate a first draft with ChatGPT, improve it, and submit the result as the student's own work. That too would be cheating. Or a student preparing for an exam could run sample questions through ChatGPT and rely on the output for guidance. That sounds like skating on thin ice. But ChatGPT can apparently outperform many toileteers already.

More interesting than the possibility of using software to generate briefs and such is the possibility of turning some legal work over to computers, thereby casting many lawyers out of a job. Software for writing wills has been around since the 1980s (taking the place of forms that used to be sold), and much other legal work is so formulaic that it may soon be automated. For clarity, Old Guy does not recommend that anyone produce a will with software or forms, although even a naïvely generated will may be better than none at all (yes, I said may!). But is the day far off when an expert system will be able to interview a testator and generate a respectable will—or a referral to a lawyer when the expert system cannot handle some difficulty (assets outside the country, complicated trusts, sophisticated estate planning)? Old Guy uses a template—his own—for the purpose, although it invariably requires alteration rather than mere filling in of blanks. Although Old Guy does not write many wills, he prides himself on producing superior ones. For uncomplicated situations, maybe the task could be automated.

Last month a company announced that its software was going to be used experimentally to defend a traffic ticket: it would listen in court and tell the accused (through an earphone) what to say, and the company would pay any fine. Perhaps some common defences could be handled effectively by software, and the options for some tickets are likely to be so limited that the approach might work some of the time. But effective computer-generated cross-examinations and closing arguments are probably a long way off.

Old Guy's work, in the main, is along the lines of briefs for court more than basic wills or defense to traffic tickets. He doesn't expect to be displaced by a computer. But some bottom-end legal work—filling out routine forms, calculating support in a divorce, document review, soon enough perhaps even traffic court—may soon be automated if it hasn't been already, and that will reliably reduce the number of openings for lawyers. Über-toilet law schools will suffer the most: after all, their graduates are the most likely to do bottom-end work as it is, and they cannot expect to migrate into something like appellate litigation that will be a human endeavor for some time to come.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Über-toileteers continue to perform terribly on bar exams; ABA issues four notices of non-compliance


The disclosures that the ABA requires from law schools under its so-called Standard 509 are due by December 15. Usually the ABA publishes the reports on a Web site, but this year it still has not done so; one must hunt up the reports on the law schools' own Web sites.

Old Guy can't be bothered, but he has checked a few, for your information.

Appalachian School of Law has long been a target of derision here at OTLSS. This year only 51 new students enrolled, a number well below the figure of 75 that Old Guy has estimated as the minimum for a law school's long-term sustainability. Such low enrollment is bad news for this particular über-toilet, which has been in dire financial straits for several years. 

Another piece of bad news for Appalachian School of Law is its graduates' abysmal performance on the bar exams. Of the 53 graduates from 2021 or prior years who took a bar exam for the first time, only 18 passed. That's 34%, far below the level of 75% that the ABA has nominally required since 2019 (the rule says that "[a]t least 75 percent of a law school's graduates who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar examination administered within two years of their graduation"). I say "nominally" because in practice the ABA readily excuses non-compliance; its rule contains more holes than a wheel of Gruyère. It is true that the data show only the number of graduates who passed on the first attempt, so these data do not prove that Appalachian School of Law is out of compliance; however, it would take a hell of a lot to catch up, and the über-toilet has little control over its graduates' preparation for the exam or even their willingness to take a bar exam again. 

At the odious Western State College of Law, which in recent years has changed hands among a wacky church and a couple of private entities supposedly in the field of education), only 55% of this year's candidates passed a bar exam for the first time. First-year enrolment soared from 23 last year to 128 this year, Old Guy is sorry to report.

Über-toilet Charleston enrolled 223 new students, which is 223 more than it deserves. The bar-passage rate was 59%, again well below the ABA's threshold.

Ohio Northern, another über-toilet that seems too small to be sustainable, has not yet published its 509 report. Its bar-passage rate was 71%, still below the threshold.

Cooley this year had 191 new students and a 38% rate of bar passage. See below for more on this poster child of über-toilets.


Last month the ABA issued new notices of non-compliance with the standard of bar passage to four law schools: Ave Maria, District of Columbia, Hofstra, and Vermont. All four have been called before a meeting to be held in May 2023 so that they can try to prove that they are in compliance with the standard. That is likely to be difficult, in light of this year's new data:

Ave Maria, 63%
District of Columbia, 33%
Hofstra, (no data since 2020)
Vermont, (no data since 2021)

Vermont Law School doubled down this year and turned itself into Vermont Law and Graduate School, the "Graduate School" part apparently referring to a whole slate of new degrees of questionable value marketed to people who don't have a background in law. Perhaps that was done in contemplation of losing accreditation, because the "graduate school" could go on operating anyway, although I fail to understand what would attract anyone to the little unincorporated crossroads of South Royalton, Vermont.

In August 2022, two Puerto Rican law schools each got a three-year extension of the time to achieve compliance, however remote the possibility may seem. Cooley got the same in May, and we can see how very little progress Cooley is making towards its fulfilling its purported plan to reach the 75% mark (which is disgracefully low, but that's another issue).

Old Guy is going to bet that the ABA will rubber-stamp a similar extension for the four über-toilets newly notified of their non-compliance (as if they hadn't long been aware of it) and that it will also find some cockamamie excuse to grant additional indulgences once the extension lapses for those four and the others. In the meantime, Old Guy will say yet again that nobody at all should attend any of these so-called law schools, or indeed any other law school in the US but perhaps as many as thirteen (Harvard, Yale, a few others) that in theory may be worth attending under certain conditions.