Frank Bruni worries that
the inclusion of graduates’ earnings as one yardstick of effectiveness belongs to a broader trend of seeing college in pecuniary terms that could easily go too far.Dean Laurence Mitchell of Case Western Law School agrees. He downplays the job market woes by noting that the previous job market downturn for law graduates, in 1998, saw 55% of law graduates starting in law firms, while 50% found similar jobs in 2011:
a 9 percent decline from a previous low during the worst economic conditions in decades hardly seems catastrophic.Perhaps Bruni would disagree with Mitchell's analysis of the job market for lawyers, but it is strange that they complain about using career and income outcomes as a metric to assess the quality of American higher education while consistently pointing to surveys and statistics showing that those with college degrees have lower rates of unemployment and higher incomes of those without college degrees. In fact, it reminds me very much of law school deans who complain about the US News' law school rankings while simultaneously claiming credit for improvements in the rankings.
Bruni and Mitchell both acknowledge the huge cost of attendance for American higher education and law schools, but, at least in their columns, they don't connect the dots between student loans and that all-important first job. After all, if sufficient income gains aren't realized soon after the loan payments become due, the effects can snowball as graduates delay marriage, significant purchases, and starting a family.
Just imagine two Case Western Reserve law school graduates marrying soon after graduation, both median students who had to borrow most of the $40K annual tuition and $20K living expenses, creating a combined debt load of a conservative $300,000 (as opposed to the more liberal $400K+, if you include interest, undergraduate debt, credit card debt, etc). Will those two 27-31 year olds be comforted by Dean Mitchell telling them that he and the law professors there have educated them "for a career likely to span 40 to 50 years," when they are paying $2000-3500 a month in student loans, on a combined $100K salary?
While I don't think that injecting partisan politics into the law school scam debate is necessarily productive, I think much of the problem can be the traced to the Left's utter dominance of American higher education.
The level of imbalance that the elite Left wields on higher education (and law schools) is dangerous when coupled with the good intentions (everyone should get a college degree) and belief in their own infallibility (how often do we see them deride their opponents for not following "science" or being "rational", or patting themselves on the back for being "open-minded"?).
The end result is colossal mistakes where the people hurt most are the people the Left has been trying to help, and those that the Left publicly derides gains much of the benefits, with the added kicker that when the colossal mistake occurs, and is blindingly obvious, they miss the bloody point!!!
For instance, one of their favorite scapegoats of the tuition increases is a decrease in state aid to public schools. While I would not disagree that some tuition increases are because of a decrease in state-funding, I don't think it tells the whole story (not to mention that it doesn't explain the increases in private schools' tuition).
Why would revenue-strapped states increase valuable tax revenue to colleges, when much of the new expensive is going to administrative bloat, expensive non-educational physical facilities, faculty salaries, and students can borrow tens of thousands of dollars from the federal government directly? We can take this further and point out that if a public university drastically raises tuition every year for the raises of the administrators and to hire a new Dean of Sustainability and the assistant and secretary, and a state keeps funding the same amount of valuable tax revenue, it would appear that the state aid has decreased, at least when viewed from total contributions.
I digress, but the point is simply that the point is missed, and missed in a strategic way to assign blame elsewhere: Business-minded college presidents. For-profit universities. Republican governors. "Low" taxes. They are the real villains here. Not us. We thoroughly dominate academia and America's institutions of higher learning, but it is not our fault. Do not hold us accountable.
If the reformers get enough traction and influence to question their policies, it gets even more ugly, and the hypocrisy is exposed even more. The last post I made was based on a letter circulated by the AALS Section on Minority Groups, attacking the ABA's draft recommendations on weakening tenure at law schools. The AALS SMG attacked the argument for increasing the "flexibility" of law school administrators as perpetuating the "status quo of underrepresentation of minority professors in legal education."
In other words, if the reformers get bold enough, the motives will get attacked as biased against certain groups.
One obvious approach to lowering tuition and oversaturation in certain fields is to reduce supply and demand.
For law schools, this would mean lowering the applicant pool and limiting the amount of money that the students can borrow from the government. This could be done very simply in two steps. First, require a minimum LSAT score for a student to attend law school, say 155, and a minimum GPA, say a 3.3. Second, outlaw GradPlus loans.
In support of such a solution, the reformers can fairly argue that there are too many law graduates for the market to bear, and they are bearing too much debt. This can be solved by keeping the "highest qualified" students, as measured by their academic credentials, and reducing the amount that law students can borrow. By holding the remaining applicants to Stafford Loans, they will be forced to be sensitive on price (as opposed to students of higher ed. in general being price insensitive), and ultimately graduate with less debt. With less debt, the students will be more able to pursue public interest or low-paying legal jobs in rural communities.
However, the obvious will be missed. The law school establishment would protest such proposals as attacks on lower-income and minority groups.
They would argue that eliminating GradPlus loans would mean only the well-to-do could attend law school. However, if law school wasn't so expensive, students wouldn't need to borrow tens of thousands of dollars extra a year over the Stafford limit! Students could go to law school, work during school, and graduate with much less debt.
They would argue that basing law school admittance on LSAT scores is biased against minority groups such as blacks and Hispanics, because those groups have median LSAT scores which are much lower than median white or Asian students. They miss the fact that we already base law school admittance on LSAT scores. You can only get into certain schools with certain LSAT scores. If the LSAT is so biased against historically underrepresented minorities, why do we still use it? But since LSAT/GPA are correlated to class rank, law school grades are biased against UM groups (blacks get on average poorer grades than their peers).
As you can see, the blame for the legal education crisis, which affects UM groups more than whites, can be laid squarely on the law school establishment! They claim to want to help traditionally disadvantaged people get legal careers, but they have perpetuated a system which is stacked against those people from the beginning!
In closing, I will say that when any group has outsized influence on an institution or subject, they will shift blame, obfuscate, and otherwise try to hold onto their influence. There are many examples on all political sides. However, ideology is at play here, and I think we need to recognize the danger that the power and hubris of the elite Left poses to our efforts in continuing to miss the point.
"The road to hell is paved in good intentions."
PS: I have stayed up very late writing this, so I apologize for any incoherencies and grammar/spelling mistakes. I will make any needed corrections in the morning.