Friday, May 4, 2012

ASP and prospective law students

An interesting issue was discussed on the ASP listserv recently. Carlota Toledo of Indiana-McKinney School of Law brought up the issue of declining law school enrollment and the impact this will have on ASP. I work with undergrads and in law school ASP; this issue is not  an abstraction for me. I spend part of my day, everyday, working with undergraduates who are exploring legal education as a post-graduate option. As I have previously discussed, this is not something we can afford to ignore. Law school deans have already spoken out about the rising cost of running a law school, as well as the challenges of providing increasing levels of services to students. Because ASP professionals are more vulnerable to budget cuts due to less job security, this is an issue that all of us should be discussing and addressing in conferences. We cannot afford to stick out heads in the sand, or hope that it will be somebody else's problem.

Personally, I can attest to the significant drop-off in interest in law school among students with high LSAT's and UGPA's. These students have paid attention to the news, they read the blogs, and they have other options besides law school. An unprecedented number of them have told me they are changing their plans and either not going to law school at all, or they are taking a wait-and-see approach, where they explore other options (Teach for America, Peace Corp, internships abroad) until a legal education guarantees a substantial return on investment. My strong-but-not elite students are taking a different approach; they are only considering law schools that discount tuition by half or more. Many of them are willing to walk away from the idea of being a lawyer if it means more than 40 or 50k in debt from law school loans. These students are still going to law school in significant numbers, but they will not be generating much, if any, revenue for law schools.

Why is this relevant to ASP? The only group of students who are not reconsidering their plans to go to law school are the ones who have no other options. I have seen no decline in interest in law school among students with mediocre to poor UGPAs and LSATs. They cannot get a job in this economy, and many of them have substantial undergraduate loan debt that they cannot pay after graduation. A handful of these students will do very well in law school, because the reason for their lackluster academic performance thus far was due to events outside of their control (death in the family, health issues that have been resolved). The majority of these students are going to struggle in law school. Their sub-par academic performance was due to a sub-par work ethic and a lack of maturity. These students are going straight from undergrad to law school, without the time to grow into themselves and gain the maturity and insight that is necessary to compete in law school. ASP is going to be a lifeline for these students. They are the students most likely to reject help until they are in crisis, and they will be the most reluctant to accept that they need remedial support because they did not learn essential skills in college. ASP needs to plan for the arrival of these students and develop strategies for working with these students.

We are facing the unprecedented convergence of twin challenges: a decline in enrollment and accompanying decline in revenue, and an increased need for our services. (RCF)

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