Friday, January 1, 2021

Which law schools are worth attending? Part II

Just over six years ago, Old Guy posted his first article here to answer an important question: which law schools are worth attending? Using a simple but reasonable model and the data supplied by our friends at Law School Transparency, he concluded that 13 schools—Berkeley, Columbia, Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Stanford, Virginia, Yale—were "the only ones that anyone not independently wealthy should consider". Just maybe the total could be raised to 16 by including three marginal schools that people paying little or nothing might consider as long as they understood that "they [were] taking a big risk".

This recent report by Andrew Gillen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation revisits Old Guy's question. Pointedly entitled "Objection! Law schools can be hazardous to students' financial health", the report assessed law schools' performance and relative value by applying "a debt-to-earnings test called Gainful Employment Equivalent (GEE)" (at 1) to data from the US Department of Education. Of the 218 law schools (not all accredited), 168 had publicly available data; the others were so small that the Department of Education concealed their data so as to protect the privacy of students and graduates (at 2).

How many schools met Gillen's standard? Exactly as many as Old Guy cited in his more generous estimate: "of the programs with data, only 16 (10%) law schools pass GEE, with another 30 (18%) on probation. A shocking 122 (73%) law school programs fail GEE. Thus, almost three quarters of law school programs leave their typical student borrower with a debt so high relative to their post-graduation earnings that they are unlikely to be able to afford to make their student loan payments" (at 2).

The following are the schools that passed GEE (at 5–9):

  • Berkeley
  • Boston College
  • Chicago
  • Columbia
  • Connecticut
  • Harvard
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Northwestern
  • NYU
  • Penn
  • Stanford
  • Texas
  • Vanderbilt
  • Virginia
  • Washington University in St Louis

This list will surprise the esteemed readers of Outside the Law School Scam for including several mediocre institutions while omitting some well-regarded ones. Most of the mediocrities barely scraped through. As for the missing élite institutions, please note that Cornell, Duke, and Yale were omitted for want of data, probably because relatively few of their graduates took out student loans.

Since Gillen's data come from 2015–16, the report amusingly includes the über-toilets that have shut down since that academic year, the first of which was Indiana Tech.

Gillen aptly observes that "only 15% of law school graduates attended a program that passed GEE. Another 17% attended a program on probation [by the Department of Education]. An astounding 68% of law school graduates attended a program thath fails GEE, indicating that the typical graduate ho borrowed will be unable to afford their student loan payments. In other words, for every law school graduate from a passing program, there was one graduate from a program on probation, and four graduates from a failing program" (at 2).

A glance at the five-page list of law schools shows that debt, where reported, is typically well past $100k. The following had median debt in excess of $185k (and remember that this was five years ago): Florida Coastal ($198,655), Whittier ($196,008), Thomas Jefferson ($195,892), Southwestern ($193,653), Arizona Summit ($188,191), Charlotte ($188,985). Small wonder that four of these six are defunct (well, Thomas Jefferson still operates, just without ABA accreditation) and that at least one of the others has one foot in the grave. In the department of earnings, the long-reported bimodal pattern stands out in sharp relief: 7 schools have median earnings above $150k, 19 have median earnings below $40k, and most of the rest seem to be close to the lower end (perhaps below $55k).

Unsurprisingly, high debt often accompanies low earnings. Of the six mentioned above where median debt exceeds $185k, the highest median earnings were $45,200 (at Arizona Summit, in case you care to know). Arithmetic could not have informed many decisions to enroll at über-toilets where the median debt is more than four times the median earnings.

Old Guy is grateful for Gillen's effort but wishes to point out that median earnings at the time of graduation are unlikely to last: even those few who get jobs paying $150k or more are likely to lose those jobs within three or four years—and find themselves unable to make comparable money again. Borrowing $183,857 to go to NYU, or $129,030 for Vanderbilt, is likely to turn out badly when the income that supports the high payments proves temporary. In addition, the median figures may be misleading. Harvard's median debt of $133,617 may appear manageable, but remember than many students get the entire cost paid from a trust fund or a parent's bank account and thus do not borrow anything, while many others borrow all or nearly all of the cost and thus run up a debt in the vicinity of $362k at graduation (figure from Law School Transparency). Debt around $362k is unaffordable even on a median income of $158,200. Similarly, median earnings often conceal a great deal of variation—especially at the bottom end, with quite a few graduates being unemployed or making little money at a temporary, part-time, or non-legal job.

Old Guy therefore stands by his original list. Perhaps Vanderbilt can be appropriately added (it was one of the three marginal candidates on Old Guy's extended list of sixteen schools), and Old Guy is willing to entertain arguments on behalf of Boston College, Connecticut, Iowa, Texas, and Washington U, especially for applicants receiving a full scholarship. Gillen and Old Guy differ on three or four schools (presumably he would accept Cornell, Duke, and Yale even though their data are not public), which is to say that they substantially agree—and that should come as no surprise, since their analyses are based on relevant facts and logic, not on arbitrary "rankings" by some long-defunct magazine or propaganda from admissions offices or pie-in-the-sky fantasies by lemmings who expect to achieve a financially successful career even though most new JDs today do not.

Although we can argue about the merits of individual law schools, the key point is that only about one school in twelve works out adequately for the median student when we generously and unrealistically assume that income shortly after graduation will not decline until the student loans are paid off. Anyone considering a law school can start with Old Guy's list or Gillen's (the latter should be supplemented with Cornell, Duke, and Yale) but must perform the financial analysis in light of individual circumstances. Perhaps UCLA on a full scholarship wouldn't be a horrible idea for you even though Harvard with no scholarship—and no trust fund or benefactor—would be. 

Gillen's final paragraph (at 4) can appropriately end this article as well: "Among the riskiest of the largest academic fields is law. Seventy-three percent of law schools fail these debt-to-earnings tests, and 68% of law school graduates attended a program that fails. Students should think twice about enrolling in one of these failing programs, and policymakers should stop providing taxpayer subsidies for them."


  1. OG-thanks for the thorough analysis, but the problem is pretty simple: the people who ought to be reading-and heeding-this blog clearly aren't doing so. Yes, some TTTTs have closed, but far too many are still open, with enrollment standards limited to accepting anyone with a pulse. And it's all funded by you and me and every other taxpayer.

    It's pretty clear that there is a core group who will attend a law school, any law school, no matter what the potential-actually likely-disastrous outcome. So while I hope the 0Ls stop applying, the focus is now to get the government out of the graduate school loan business. Will that happen? Most likely, no; Obama didn't do it, Trump didn't do it, and Biden is unlikely to do it. But it's the only way to end the scam, as willing victims are in abundant supply.

    1. Yes, student loans are just another pork-barrel project, one that benefits hackademic scamsters rather than the various other sorts of corporate and military crooks that rob the public coffers. Certainly they should be reorganized into something rational, instead of being left to the discretion of any scamster who decides to set up Big Bubba's Skule o' Law 'n' Hare Dressin' 'n' Bible Studdys. So-called students who clearly have no potential and no ability (in some cases no intention) to repay the money shouldn't be allowed to borrow it from the state: let them pay cash or try to get a private lender to finance their dumb venture at the risk of being stuck with a dischargeable bad debt.

      I agree that the law-school scam has no meaningful standards other than ability to pay, which ordinarily means access to federally guaranteed student loans. I also agree that far more law schools should be shut down for good—a view that should be clear from my observation that about 11/12 of the law schools are not worth attending. And I agree that the government and its corrupt agent the ABA have done very little to stop the law-school scam.

      Let's not be altogether negative, however. In the past four years, eleven über-toilets have shut up shop and two others have, by switching to state accreditation, lost access to the federal money that makes the law-school scam possible. Some others, including what is left of the Cooley chain, seem likely to follow.

    2. While I agree with 9:13 part of the discussion must always be that whenever talk of killing or curtailing federal student loans comes up the toilets raise the twin cries of racism and misogyny, claiming that this will ruin the hopes and dreams of traditionally underrepresented minorities (although women are not a minority and haven't been underrepresented at law schools for at least 40 years, but whatever). Reform must come from a different direction.

      Last October I posted a comment about how in the 2019 (9th annual) Forbes report card on the financial health of private colleges and universities twenty parent schools of toilets were given a grade of D or C- (10 of each). That is a petty big damned big percentage, and Valpo, Whittier and Indiana Tech were all stronger than that when they gave their toilets the final flush. The number of D's has grown substantially over 9 years and right now private schools are both being battered by Covid-19 and looking at a substantial drop in high school seniors beginning in a few years.

      Want to kill some toilets? Don't cut off the loans, just say to these parent schools that if you are really on a mission to help the downtrodden you must be confident that they will pay off these massive loans they're taking out. So here's what, whenever one of your million-dollar degree holders defaults on his or her loans you will pay Uncle Sam 10% of the principal and outstanding interest. You don't pay, no more loans for your students. But don't worry, if these people have million-dollar degrees none of them will ever default.

      Do that and you will see financially strapped trustees and administrators looking to get out of the toilet business ASAP, probably a whole lot of them. Certainly more than those twenty; I'd wager twice that number, and you'd probably take out a lot of the more marginal public toilets and all the remaining indies, too.

    3. The toilets didn't care much about disadvantaged racial groups until recent years, when these groups became the last important ones that were ripe for exploitation by the law-school scam. Cynical scamsters were able to pose as noble providers of opportunities while collecting countless millions from the public coffers.

      I don't trust the plan of clawing back 10% from the scamsters: they might well not pay, and anyway the public would still be stuck with a big loss. I recommend instead meaningful standards for students and schools alike, together with caps on the amount that could be borrowed. For example, let's start by requiring the LSAT across the board—no substituting the GRE—and imposing a nice little minimum of 151 at the 25th percentile. That little trick alone will kill 73 law schools. In a year or two, we can move the threshold up to 153, then to 154, 155, 156. Along the way, we can cap loans at $50k per year, then $45k, $40k, $35k, $30k—and perhaps link the cap to the quality of the school.

    4. Law schools have never cared about minorities. They knew two decades ago that women and minorities did not get partner track and in general legal representation at quality positions was very low for women and minorities, especially big law.

      They and the ABA did absolutely nothing to address that issue, despite identifying it and ready to pat themselves on the back if they could do a thing about it.

      This is where the gravel met the road. The law firms are completely unwilling to diversify. And since the entire system of law is an utter sham, they would never be forced to. When sued for discrimination, they just casually pointed at their document reviewers, and insisted that showed diversity. Indeed, doc reviewers were traditionally women and minorities. The courts, who otherwise claim doc review is not the practice of law, quickly agreed, and threatened to sanction the plaintiffs that dared seek justice. Such is par for the course, rule of law is an utter joke. How could it be scientific or unbiased when your political leanings determine your outcomes? Who ever heard of a scientist that could make up different results based on his political leanings? Yet for SCOTUS Justices it's just accepted as professional and unbiased.

      There is benefit to a legal education. In fact, I do believe L1 should be tacked onto every HS curriculum, with another year solely devoted to politics, how elections work, how representation works, how bills are passed, how to request information from public sources, how to get access to various public budgets and understand them etc. Why wouldn't we want every citizen to have this knowledge, were we to desire a truly educated and invested public?

      Of course, the answer is, those in charge absolutely do not wish for that, as they much rather prefer a stupid population that can be fed whatever propaganda and misinformation they desire to keep themselves in power.

      The elites of course have no problems with lower ranked law schools. You will see children of elites in these schools at times. Albeit the majority of true elites do not send their children to lower ranked schools regardless, and generally have them do something else. If we made trust funds and nepotism truly illegal, then probably they would however refuse to attend lower ranked schools at all.

    5. 2:49 here. Two things OG:

      1. Part of what I suggested was cutting off student loans to schools that don't pay the "clawback." That undermines the use of the "disadvantaged" by forcing schools to admit not everyone ends up with a lucrative career. Right now the weak link is the parent schools who are struggling and can't afford to bail out their toilets.

      2. While I like your idea I think it is still vulnerable to the race card. Set a 150 cut off at the 25th percentile. "Well we're at 149 because we open opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds who went to terrible urban schools and were the first in their family to attend college and could have had a 150 if they'd had all the advantages Chip and Muffy from the suburbs had and 149 is pretty darned good for a disadvantaged person and how can you hate another person just because of the color of their skin, etc., etc."

      Put the pressure on the parent schools who can lose a law school and still save themselves. If a law school breaking free of a parent was a viable proposition some of the recently closed toilets would have done it.

    6. The clawback would still allow toilet law schools to make off with a few more years of ill-gotten gains.

      Any cut-off would be attacked for arbitrariness. Witness the attacks on the cut-offs on the various bar exams. I don't care. Schools down at 150 and below are just plain lousy, one and all. Every school on Gillen's list has a score of 156 or better at the 25th percentile. Although not stellar, that's far better than 150 or lower.

    7. Nothing has worked/happened for twenty years save the closing of some uebertoilets. I'm willing to gamble a couple more years. The current crisis in higher education gives a rare chance to strike and, as Rahm Emanuel said, you should never let a good crisis go to waste.

      And whenever you start setting standards the ABA and AALS will be holding all the aces. Dollars and cents have killed 11 toilets, that's the fight that can be won. It can be won because loan defaults prove the toileteers are exploiting the people they claim to be championing.

    8. Thirteen toilets shuttered in four years strikes me as progress. I'm not complaining. And, yes, the current crisis gives us a reason to keep hammering away at the law-school scam.

  2. Noteworthy that 6 of 16 are flagship state universities where the taxpayer is helping pay tuition, but no number two state school, not even UCLA, makes the cut. The top state school grads are obviously skimming off the cream of the local job markets, even in a gigantic state like California.

    As a CT resident UConn makes sense to me. With Boston and NYC close by we are no magnet for yuppie wannabes. But in New England and Metro NYC it's T-14's, BC, BU, UConn and then more toilets than you could shake a stick at. Yale is so small and so few of its students come from and/or stay in CT it has little impact on the job market. (Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton went home.) Nutmeggers planning to stay in state fill a lot of the top jobs here, so in-state tuition and a favorable jobs picture could make the numbers work

    1. Yes, U Conn is precisely the sort of mediocrity that for some people might marginally be worth attending. The state, as you said, heavily subsidizes the cost for residents. Tuition for non-residents is monstrous, over $60k per year; paying that much would be foolish. What saves U Conn—again, for some people—is that almost 60% of students get discounts in excess of 50%. The cost isn't out of line when tuition is slashed to $10k or less.

      Those paying much more should think again. According to Law School Transparency, the full debt-financed cost at graduation is $181k for residents of Connecticut and $290k for others—quite unaffordable at median earnings of $75k.

  3. I'm guessing that many of the law schools that operate night programs were able to dodge this GEE test since most night students have full time jobs and can pay their way, at least partially, through law school.

  4. You know Old-Guy, I generally have been impressed by lawyers who graduated from the most elite law schools as you have...but after watching Cruz in action and his buddy Senator Haley, I wonder if the intelligence common to elite lawyers also makes them much more susceptible to sociopathy.

    1. What the élites have in common is not intelligence but money. Let me be clear: I am not impressed with élite schools, including my own. And, yes, sociopathy is common among hereditary aristocrats.

  5. First, I just looked up their backgrounds and nether of the mentioned Senators was the scion of an old money family. Their parents seem to have been well off but by reason of their own intelligence and industry.

    Second, can we keep politics out of this? As the last remaining scamblog OTLSS is providing an important service and turning it into another The Belly of the Beast will only harm its effectiveness. Someone recently commented that Obama and Trump had done nothing about curtailing student loans and that Obama's actions probably portend Biden's. That is not political, it is a comment about the government's seemingly non-partisan indifference to the problem. Calling named individuals sociopaths is name calling and has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

  6. At this point, I'd just say that law school is for rich kids. There are far better educational avenues and career paths for people who don't come from money. More importantly, those educational avenues and career paths don't involve taking on six-plus figures of student loan debt and working in what can be a highly stressful and often toxic environment.

    A rich kid can walk away from a crappy job. An indentured servant can't.

    1. Yes, that's pretty close to the mark. A nobody like Old Guy should just forget about law school and the legal "profession". We may succeed academically, but we'll struggle to find work.

      If Old Guy were thirty-odd years younger, he would skip university altogether and take up a trade. If he went to university at all, it would be to get into medical school. Law is a fucking farce. And you've just heard it from a practicing lawyer.

    2. The irony is actually the best pathway would likely have been becoming a law school prof.

      It's similar to how Campos had criticisms for law school but still obviously benefited from the scam.

      I don't think trades are as viable as people claim however. There is an incredible amount of nepotism in the trades as well. Most of the trade success stories you hear/read are from people whose parents own a company. If their parents had owned a law firm it would have been no different for them in law.

      Trade schools are also expensive, also start people out at low wages (at or around minimum wage) and churn through them. Similar to the law scam, these stories are shouted down. But the trades can also break your body by 40, and it's not pretty.

      I think the truth is it's best to be born into money, period. If not, it doesn't quite matter what you do, generally speaking you will need an immense amount of luck.

      Military might be the only real pathway for most of the unconnected, for various reasons people may want to avoid it. I don't think the average educated person would are well in either the trades or the military, both are more something you go into while young and put up with. Professions do have certain personality profiles in them. And there are definite intelligence and value differences.

      I really don't think it's as easy as just "do trades, do STEM, do military, be a doctor" whatever. Perhaps being born a white male 60 years ago in the US would be your best bet, but that also falls under luck.

    3. Yes, scam-professors and other law-school scamsters have some of the cushiest gigs. Nice "work" if you can get it. But I couldn't get it even if I tried (pardon the Gershwin). Thirty, never mind Old Guy's age, is over the hill for that sort of thing, and it helps to have one's marriage reported in the society pages or to trumpet Choate on one's CV or to get one's scam-prof spouse offed by a couple of hit men glad to be of service.

      You raise good points about facile solutions such as taking up a trade or getting a municipal sinecure protected by a union or driving a truck in North Dakota or opening a solo law practice in Bumblefuck, Nebraska. Really, there just aren't many good lines of work nowadays. The most desirable options are crowded out, even though they may have been crying for people forty years ago. Baby boomers (why won't they hurry up and die, for Christ's sake?) are still hoarding jobs for themselves and their spawn, all the while graciously scowling at Generation X. Pensions are mostly a thing of the past, and many of the remaining defined-benefit plans are on the verge of collapse. Attending university costs the earth, and many graduates even of postgraduate programs end up pouring coffee, delivering pizzas, or wasting away at Mommy's house. Speaking of houses, they've become unaffordable. Old Guy started adult life by renting a bedroom in someone's house, all that he could afford even as an engineer for his first four years after university. The same baby boomers who bought a house for a few thousand dollars before age 25 never stop praising real estate as an infallible investment. Oh, really?

      Advice to pursue this or that line of work is often dated. Petroleum engineering is still commonly touted, years after it became glutted and went into decline. Universities often warn students not to expect to find work in their chosen field; after all, how can anyone be so unreasonable as to seek a job that would use the skills earned through years of study at a cost in the high five figures or beyond?

      Many of us (Old Guy included) had sooner die than become a military shit-kicker, at least in the US. That and prisoner are the traditional roles of the underclass, especially its racialized component. (Compare the Roman proletarian class, its name coming from proles 'offspring' because it served society merely by supplying the empire with the next generation of cannon fodder.) Anyone with a claim to independent thought or even dignity need not apply to Uncle Scam's forces of oppression.

      And it's true that Old Guy would hardly have fit in as an electrician by quoting Horace in the original. Then again, using words of more than one syllable garners him nasty looks from fellow members of the anti-intellectual legal "profession".

      Your solution really is the best one: elect rich parents or arrange to be born in the right era, race, and gender. Why didn't I think of that?

    4. Look at Rudy Giuliani. The man is an utter imbecile who doesn't know even basic law, yet he has had an elite legal and political career.

      Intelligence is meaningless. Hard work is meaningless. Ability is meaningless. It's literally what position are born into in life.

      I don't see the value of pretending otherwise. I believe people would be much happier admitting how rigged everything is, and maybe smartening up enough to demand UBI or something.

    5. Full many a gem of purest ray serene
      The dark, unfathom'd caves of ocean bear;
      Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen
      And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


    6. O.K., 9:21 here and here we go again. Let's keep political name calling out of this. It has nothing to do with the purpose of the blog and is often based on bad information.

      You do know, don't you 8:51, that Rudy G's father was a convicted felon who served time in Sing Sing? And the man who doesn't know basic law put a corrupt Congessman in jail and won convictions of the bosses of all five of NYC's five families. Are you old enough to remember Boesky and Malkin?

      Stay on topic.

    7. Oh look, another sycophant here to lick the boots of the elite, here to tell us all to shut up.

      How about you shut up and go somewhere else? Nobody needs you here.

    8. Name calling. How mature. You know, there's a lot that could be said about the topic of how a political career can provide a substitute for a privileged background. Bill Clinton did not become POTUS with any help from me but he is a good example of how that works. So is his wife, who'd have spent her life as an obscure attorney somewhere had she not ridden his coattails to the national spotlight. I had issues with Mr. Clinton but I am happy that I live in a country where a person of very high intelligence can rise from a nightmarish, trailer park background to be President by means of education. But Clinton went to law school in a very different era, and the present era is what this blog is supposed to be about.

      Prosecutors (depending on how a state structures such things) can often parlay their positions into political careers. Kamala Harris is a recent example. Thus there are means of success that do not require
      birth with a silver spoon in one's mouth. That can and should be part of the discussion here.

      As I say, if we get off topic and turn this into a political slugfest then 0L's who might benefit from the blog will write it off as such and not read it.

      And I never told anyone to "shut up." I asked that we all stay on topic.

    9. Yes, indeed, let's stay on topic.

  7. I had hoped that Trump would take on the Higher Ed - Industrial Complex. They hated him more than the media did, and I thought his natural belligerence would have spurred him to go after them. Instead, he appointed Betsy DeVos, with ties to the for-profit ed scam, who was all too happy to keep the student loans flowing.

    Biden has announced his Ed Secretary, Miguel Cardona. He is a Higher Ed True Believer, and believes that Higher Ed's mission is to "change the world and fight inequity." You all know that means he's all for keeping the student loans flowing, to cram as many people as possible into the meat grinder as possible.

    The Right, the Left, and the Center all have Higher Ed Cultists, and Higher Ed Cynics like us. We all have our views, we all have our disappointments.

  8. With some very limited exceptions, just about all graduate education is a con job if you're getting the degree with the hopes of getting a job. It's been a joke for decades that liberal arts PhDs are essentially worthless; the MBA is now like the JD-maybe worth getting if you attend a top ten school with low debt...but there are approximately 1100(!) unis in the US offering the degree:
    so good luck if you attend the other 1090..
    And even medicine-where you're still guaranteed a job upon graduation-often involves debt of close to a quarter million dollars.
    The only people cashing in on graduate education are the hackademics and the scam schools(which is about 90% of them).

    1. Amazing that 1100 universities in the US offer the MBA. That degree was seen as a scam back in the late 1980s, when everyone and her goddamn parakeet was getting one.

      Good employment in the US ended around the year 1980. Baby boomers who never finished high school easily got jobs that enabled them to own a house and take vacations. University degrees, rare at the time, tended to pay off very well indeed. Now people feel compelled to go to university because they feel that they can't get a decent job without it, yet they can't get a job with it either…

  9. There is one field where a master's has at least some value, which is any kind of counseling work. A bachelor's degree in psychology will get you a job at a group home for developmentally disabled persons or as an orderly at the state mental hospital. They don't take you seriously in that field without a master's of some sort. I had a friend in college who was far from the sharpest tool in the box. She got a B.A. in psychology but due to GRE/grade issues couldn't get in anywhere for grad school. Her mother was an RN and thus knew she was going nowhere in her field without that second degree. They found an extremely lame college that was on its last legs and, fortuitously, my friend's grandfather passed away at just the right moment leaving her mother a decent inheritance. This lame school would take anyone willing to pay full freight (and this was decades ago, when tuition was still within the plane of the horizon) so she got in and graduated at the second to last commencement before the place went belly up. She does some kind of counseling. I don't think she's had a stellar career but she at least had a career, which never would have happened without that second degree. My general understanding of the matter is that the situation is pretty much the same today.

    You are right, however, about MBAs. In the 1980's the nation went through a short-lived phase where it was decided that management was a science unto itself and that anyone with an MBA could walk into any corporation knowing jack shit about whatever industry was involved and be an instant wunderkind. It did work in theory, and that blip on the radar was what sent swarms of clueless recent college graduates to MBA programs expecting to cash in. And that scam, like law school, still goes on driven by gross misperceptions about what you'll get out of it. At least MBA lemmings only get fleeced out of two years of tuition and the letters MBA on a resume aren't scarlet letters like JD.

    1. Yes, a counseling type masters can be good, but make sure it's accredited and accepted by states for licensure. A masters in psych is worthless; a CACREP accredited counseling masters or (better) an NASW accredited masters in clinical social work is what you want.

      Licensed masters-levels can bill most Medicaid and private health insurance, and clinical social workers can even bill Medicare too. That creates demand in various clinics and even hospitals. So while the pay isn't great, licensed masters-levels rarely have trouble finding a job in my experience. The trouble is getting the hours. You need thousands of hours of post-degree experience before you can be independently licensed, and a lot of people do have trouble finding that. Still, it is probably the most practical liberal artsy masters I know of.

      As to MBAs, you hit the nail on the head: Even if it's a scam, it's still a year shorter (and thus cheaper) and doesn't pigeonhole you. Worst case it makes no difference, but unlike JDs I don't see anyone trying to figure out a way to leave the degree off their resume entirely, nor do I see any employers asking MBA people for their school transcripts. They usually have to have work experience coming in, too, so MBA programs typically don't take people with nothing to fall back on.

    2. There's some truth to the management as science concept, but I don't think it can be taught. It's a science, but it's a social science. It's mostly innate personality that gets people into the C-suite; the MBA is just the excuse needed to promote them.

      You know the types. The born salesmen, the people pleasers, the people who can effortlessly "work a room." Likeable, but not in a "have a beer with you" sort of way. More like the kind of person who oozes a certain confidence and poise that causes people to respect them and see them as a leader. The kind of person others look up to (both literally and figuratively, studies show it helps to be tall).

      For such people, it really doesn't matter what particular widget the company sells. The leader type only needs to acquire a passing familiarity with the product or service to sell it and the company that produces it. The rest is fundamentally a kind of people skill.

      I think that people who have that personality tend to get MBAs, as opposed to MBAs instilling it in people.

    3. Let's be clear about most MBAs-they are absolutely, positively worthless. Get one from a top 10 school ok, probably worth the cost. But the rest? A colossal waste of money; just take a look at what your local state school or no-reputation private charge for tuition/fees for a degree that will make you marketable nowhere. So yes, it's a shorter program than the JD, but the job prospects are about the same.

    4. BTW, new theory on elite degrees, at least the ones that don't lead to professional licensure: Just go off the acceptance letters. 90% of the value of a Harvard degree is earned not by finishing, but by getting in. No one cares what you actually studied there, they just care about the fact that you were good enough for the place to associate its brand with you. That demonstrates high intelligence as well as dedication to playing the game correctly. So an employer could know, just from the fact that someone was accepted, that they could learn whatever the employer needed them to learn and would be motivated to excel at anything and everything.

      So, maybe the ibanks and fortune 500s and big 4 consulting type places should just put out an open call: Invite applicants who don't need a state-issued license to bypass all that debt and time and start earning right out of HS. Just show us your acceptance letter from an elite college. The fact that you got in tells us everything we need to know, so just get the offer. No need to accept it or actually attend.

      Expose this farce for what it is: A way of sorting people into groups based on preexisting characteristics; it's not really about learning anything.

    5. To support your theory: Bezos' (now ex-) wife graduated from Princeton with a degree in English...and got hired by a hedge fund. So it's all about the super elite school pedigree, not the actual degree itself.

    6. Yes, élite status of universities is mainly about prestige, not about substance. I once heard someone bang on about wanting a purse that cost $700: it was a little shit-brown bag made of a sort of plastic-coated burlap, but it commanded that ridiculous price because it had the brand's logo stamped all over it. Harvard and Yale are similar. Maybe they're shit-brown burlap, but they're prestigious. The fact that admission to an élite university doesn't necessarily require high intelligence came to public attention when various nouveaux riches were caught committing outright fraud in order to get their mediocre darlings into various prestigious universities. Even before that, however, it was well known that the Harvards and the Yales were peopled overwhelmingly with the scions of very wealthy people.

      It is true that now and then these establishments admit a hayseed like Old Guy, mainly to cover up their aristocratic essence. Of course, hayseeds don't typically have the same professional outcomes as grandees.

      You're right, 12:44, to say that the degree is really an anticlimax. What you propose is a new play on credentialism: just as what matters at a pedestrian university is the degree itself (not what is learned or achieved), what matters from an élite university is just the fact of admission, so maybe attendance can be dropped as a silly luxury.

    7. You are SO right 12:44. As my late father used to say, a diploma from a highly selective school will give you a leg up on getting your first job through brand name and alumni networks but after that it's all about performance. Sadly, however, your proposal could never work. If the Fortune 400 got all the non-license seeking Harvard matriculants to just skip college Harvard wouldn't get their money so they'd just keep re-filing their class with wait-listed folks until everyone stayed. Abe Lincoln analogized situations like that to an old Illinois farmer who said: "I ain't greedy for land, all I want is what adjoins mine."

      And speaking of my late father, let me tell 10:44 a bit about the MBA craze of the 1980's. First, though, take a look at the CEO's of America's biggest corporations and see how many have MBA's. MBA's are mostly sought by people thinking they can buck the line of results-based advancement with a piece of paper from East Podunk State U. Real performers don't waste their time. People from the top ten programs will get good jobs for the same reason 12:44 correctly stated that graduates of elite colleges get jobs. But back to the 1980's. I knew many men of my father's (WWII) generation who had similar experiences back then but I know the most about my father's so I'll go with that. He spent most of his career in the Christmas wrapping paper business (no, not with Hallmark and not competing with Hallmark. Hallmark is like Rolls Royce; the only player in its sector), and by the early 80's was VP of Sales for a (today's dollars) $75mil manufacturer of the stuff which was owned by a wealthy family with deep roots in the paper industry. When the patriarch gave control to his idiot son the latter decided to merge my father's company with another one they owned in the same business (to create "synergies," which everyone was trying to do back then) and bring in a team of hotshot MBA's to run it, none of whom had ten seconds of industry experience.

      Continued . . .

    8. There are banks and other employers that send requests for interviews to the entire graduating class at Princeton or Yale. Because those institutions' graduates are all supremely qualified for banking or whatever? No, because their graduates are all presentable to wealthy clients. Just as no one was ever fired for buying from IBM, no one was ever fired for hiring from Princeton.

    9. This suggestion from 12:44 and OG will save everyone a lot of time

      "What you propose is a new play on credentialism: just as what matters at a pedestrian university is the degree itself (not what is learned or achieved), what matters from an élite university is just the fact of admission, so maybe attendance can be dropped as a silly luxury."

      But I'd hazard a guess that the acceptance letter will require the recipient to remit $500K or so, pronto, to the "elite" school in question. For those involved, a veritible bargain-hell, Aunt Becky paid $500K IN CASH to get her kids into USC(?!) that amount for Ivy prestige?-priceless!

    10. In fairness to the elite schools, the loophole that Operation Varsity Blues discovered rich parents exploiting was a very specific one: The fact that coaches of obscure sports essentially have the same singlehanded ability to bypass the admissions committee that coaches of popular sports do, but with much less oversight because no one, including the university itself, pays much attention to weird sports they offer just cuz of title 9 or NCAA traditions or whatever. So those coaches were uniquely susceptible to bribery because unlike football or basketball, no one really cares whether their "recruits" actually play or not.

      That's not so much an indictment of elite schools as it is an indictment of this expectation that schools' athletic programs include weird obscure sports and actually admit people (often with full scholarships) just because they are allegedly good at said weird obscure sport that no one watches or cares about.

    11. Why should there be any sports teams affiliated with universities, let alone teams that overshadow the universities' academic functions? That's very much a Yankee thing, almost unknown elsewhere in the world. Outside the Benighted States, universities are universities; they don't have sports teams, still less do they make their entire reputations out of a male football or basketball team (half of the members of which are functionally illiterate). In the US, that imbecility extends even to high schools. "East Bumblefuck High School, home of the Lions." It says a lot about the sort of society that the US is.

    12. Agreed. It makes no sense to Europeans at all. To them, it's just another extracurricular.

      I think it originally had a genesis in this idea of producing graduates well-rounded both physically and mentally, but nowadays its morphed into a moneymaker for a tiny percentage of schools and a massive expense for everyone else, one which all the students must subsidize just cuz the school sees a D1 program as essential to its reputation, school spirit, alumni donor loyalty, and at public schools even legislative appropriations.

      We should indeed do away with this nonsense entirely. Let the major leagues hold their own tryouts/recruitment process. They've already got farm teams and that sort of thing anyway.

  10. Continued . . .

    I could tell you many stories but since you focused on whether you need more than a passing knowledge of widgets I'll tell you this one. Their "marketing guru" (who was more than 25 years my old man's junior) announced he was going to send sales into the stratosphere by moving into licensing. He had all kinds of licensing he wanted to buy but the one I remember was the "Strawberry Shortcake" character, then at the peak of its popularity. The men who had been in the industry for decades said don't do it: "Retailers won't buy it. Ms. Shortcake appeals only to girls in a roughly three-year age window. Retailers do 20% of their sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas and will not tie up valuable shelf facings appealing to a dozen or more very small, targeted demographics. And people want different colors and designs under their tree, that's why we sell packages with four or six or even more different designs. You put one roll of Ms. SS in there and the vast majority of people won't but it. Now you're selling small, individual rolls at a high price to cover licensing fees and you're trying to be Hallmark. Hallmark doesn't sell in the chain discount stores to which we sell. They don't even try to sell there."

    But of course, what do men with decades of experience in the industry know? The Guru had been to four 15-week semesters of MBA school and realized that these clowns didn't get that the future was in licensing, so he spent a not-too-small fortune on licensing fees, had designers develop ways to make them work on wrapping paper and having printing rollers engraved and then nobody would by it. Worse yet, he futzed up the company's ability to make timely deliveries (a life or death issue in that business) because the presses were tied up making this crap. The production people told the hotshots that because they started printing in July for the Christmas of the following year they needed to fill up the warehouse early with safe-bet basic reds and greens and then tweek production as PO's came in, but they too were ignored.

    And when it was all over it was the fault of the salesmen and the only synergy that was created was to merge two profitable companies into one money losing company. The Guru ended up spending most of his career in non-profits. It was the one thing he was good at.

    So no, 10:44, it does, in point of fact, take a lot more than a passing knowledge of a product to sell it, even a very simple product. It takes a very deep understanding of the market and the customers in the market, and no one teaching in an MBA program can teach you that. That is why most of the MBA's granted in this country are worthless. But once again a worthless MBA is better than a worthless JD because it is not toxic.

    1. I don't know much about wrapping paper, but it seems to me to be much of a muchness. Most people would want four or five inexpensive and colorful varieties rather than one expensive variety catering to a niche group. (Old Guy buys thick, cheap rolls that last for years, as long as they aren't covered with tacky Santa Clauses or religious crap.) The stuff is meant to be torn up and thrown away. Furthermore, if licensed designs had any potential, one might have expected Hallmark to exploit that possibility.

      Of course, an MBA means that one knows everything about everything, as does a JD—even from Cooley or Appalachian or Florida Coastal.

      Charlie Munger wrote about a final exam at a business school. The students were asked to advise two naïve little old ladies who had just inherited a shoe factory fraught with problems of many kinds: cash flow, taxes, labor, inventory, competition, whatever. All students but one set about presenting their handy-dandy magical solutions to the various business problems. The remaining student, who got the best grade, merely wrote something like this: "You two naïve little old ladies cannot expect to solve the numerous challenging problems that this company faces. I advise you to sell the company."

    2. 10:44 here. My post was in no way intended to defend MBAs. On the contrary, it was saying essentially that there are "born salesmen" and that while people with those traits may or may not get MBAs, getting one certainly will not transform some introvert into the kind of person that could sell sand in the desert. But that's how crap MBAs are marketed.

      As to the passing familiarity, I would posit that MBA or no MBA, that person in your wrapping paper example simply lacked even the passing familiarity that I was talking about. No matter what your widget is, you need to know what it costs to make, what you can sell it for, and what it will take in terms of supply chain and logistics to actually get said widget to retail. Licensing fees simply raised the cost of making the widget and the increased printing complexity created logistics problems. And neither of those things were offset in terms of what price could actually be charged or what stores wanted to buy.

      The notion that a widget needs demand and a margin between production costs and sales price and that logistics must work to get the product to market does not require in depth knowledge of the particularities of the wrapping paper industry. These are the questions one should ask when changing anything about whatever widget you sell: How will this change affect the cost to produce the widget, the price we can sell it for, and the logistics of bringing it to market? The leader need not know those answers, rather they need to have experts on hand to answer them and they need to know enough about widget-selling 101 to ask them.

      Sounds like this person failed to ask the most basic questions imaginable and didn't listen to the people who did think about those issues. That's not a lack of industry-specific knowledge; it's a lack of any knowledge apparently.

    3. lol. Extra credit if you say to just fire everyone and sell the factory as a real estate asset rather than the company as a going concern. Because unless you're a tech startup in Silicon Valley where VC/PE types have lost their minds and buy money-losing stuff left and right at insane valuations, a going concern is usually valued by EBITDA multiples and a money-losing company has no EBITDA to multiply.

  11. One thing the "worth attending" list fails to consider is IBR, which effectively turns large portions of people's 200k loans into grants as long as they fill out the paperwork.

    Under an equation that recharacterizes the debt as a conditional grant, any law school is "worth it" **IF** you get any job afterwards that's better than the one you could've had before after you deduct your income-adjusted payment. Loan balance relative to salary is irrelevant unless you make a whole lotta dough, so if your only other option was waiting tables it could change the analysis.

    That would become all the more true under Biden's student loan plan which, were it to become law, would make IBR the automatic default plan everyone gets enrolled in unless they opt out. Then unless you submitted evidence of changed circumstances or failed to file they'd just automatically pull your income off your tax returns and calculate your payments accordingly.

    (He would also cap PSLF at 50k, but that matters less because he would also be making IBR significantly more generous, e.g. by eliminating the "tax bomb" at 20 year forgiveness, cutting the percentage of income IBR uses to calculate payments in half, and automatically ending payments and setting zero interest for people who make under 25k).

    Oh, and BTW he would also make private loans fully dischargeable in bankruptcy.

    Were that to become law, it would be quite the boon to law schools. Yeah PSLF gets less generous but pretty much everything else represents even more of a shift towards feds being essentially the sole and unlimited lender and then these things being "loans" largely in name only for a whole lotta borrowers.

    1. If you hitch your wagon to IBR, you're vulnerable to changes in legislation or policy. Toilet law schools have heavily promoted schemes that amount to intending to default on one's student loans. What happens if the tide turns and that clever little rip-off disappears?

    2. I once spoke with an Ivy grad who had given up an incredibly cushy non-teaching position at a prestigious liberal arts school to go to a TTTT, borrowing herself into oblivion. She had kind of accepted the idea that IBR would just be part of her life month in and month out until she died. She solaced herself with the idea that her children would not have to keep paying off her loans when she died. I couldn't bring myself to tell her her estate would have to settle her debts before the kids saw anything, but in retrospect I should have told her to buy whole life to salt money away for the kiddos where the student loan people couldn't touch it. Maybe there is a new practice area coming, estate planning for lifetime IBR payers.

    3. Excellent point, and fair. No clear answer for 100% sure, and Dept of Ed has a similar "could change any time" statement on their website for PSLF.

      However, most experts who've analyzed it say that congress couldn't actually do stuff like that retroactively, because things like IBR are in the master promissory note and therefore do not just depend on current law, but are also contractually enforceable for existing borrowers. Indeed, anytime changes have been proposed they've always had grandfathering.

      So while the schools are certainly vulnerable to legislation, may be not so much the students/graduates.

    4. Don't see IBR as a reliable way out, especially since student loans have become something of a political football.
      A interesting recent article from Bloomberg on student loans:

    5. @6:40: Actually no, your estate does not need to settle student loans. At least, not federal ones. According to department of ed, federal student loans are discharged upon death of the borrower or death of the student for whom the loan was taken out, in the case of a parent PLUS loan. The heirs need only submit proof of death to the department/servicer and the loans will be discharged.

  12. I was fortunately able to pay off my loans but, the lenders/servicers kept "losing" my various paperwork and seemed to never follow my instructions to pay down principal on high interest loans. The loans also kept getting sold and moved/new servicers were involved, and I'm almost certain they "misplaced" a few rather sizable payments I made.

    It's extremely difficult to actually do anything about it. Either you fight them in court, and you have the resources in place to have people around you to find the errors, push to fix them, and the money (or rather parent's money) to compensate such people, or you kind of are at these servicers' mercy.

    I would never tell someone to just rely on the mercy of companies or the government having your best interests in mind. If it's the only thing I learned through law school and my life, it's that the government and big corps/banks are quite willing to screw you over, either maliciously or with ineptitude, and they are quite arrogant while they're doing it.

    The correct decision is to not attend law school at all. And if you are going to attend any higher education, you want the total tuition to be half of your first year entry level expected wage. Entry level expected wage is actually quite low in general, so education really shouldn't cost much at all.

    1. Civilized countries typically provide university free of charge. Various European countries offer university free of charge even to foreigners. Costs are kept down. Usually there are meaningful standards of admission—not just having a pulse.

      The US, true to form, arranges things in the worst way. First, university is extremely expensive. Costs spiral out of control, far in excess of the rate of inflation (something that is also true of health care, another thing that the US fucks up). Scamsters fatten themselves at the expense of people who just want the preparation that they need for a career. Second, because university is so frightfully expensive, many people cannot afford it at all. Consequently, people of low or even moderate means are disproportionately kept out of university and the lines of work that require it. Third, to keep university from looking like the playground of the trust-fund set, the US has introduced the half-measure of guaranteed student loans. Fourth, because these are so poorly implemented, they open the door to further exploitation by hackademic scamsters, who admit everyone with a pulse and raise prices to truly obscene levels, all while justifying their private rip-off as an eleemosynary project designed to overcome racial and other oppression. Fifth, despite the shortage of jobs for graduates and the monstrous cost, university is perversely framed as a great option because so few others are open to the public. Blue-collar employment is scarce (it is far more common in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands), and even pouring coffee these days often requires a bachelor's degree.