Friday, February 5, 2016
[by Rick Bales]
The president of Mount Saint Mary College apparently told some faculty members they need to change the way they think about struggling students, saying “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.” The quote went viral and the president has caught a lot of flak.
But what he’s describing isn’t uncommon in higher education – he was trying to game his college’s numbers by encouraging struggling students to leave before they affected the college’s retention rate. And as bar pass rates drop (at least in part because of declining admissions and entering-student credentials), pressure will increase on law schools to attrit the students most at risk of failing the bar exam before they have a chance to affect the school’s bar-pass numbers. This can be accomplished by dropping the grading curve or by raising the minimum GPA required for continued enrollment.
A reasonable rate of academic attrition is the price of providing opportunities to applicants on the application bubble and enforcing high expectations on current students. But the danger is in using the “opportunity” label to self-interestedly admit students who have little chance of success so the school can fill an entering class. The “opportunity school” approach may have been appropriate 50 years ago when the cost of legal education was, in real terms, much lower than it is today. But asking students to take on mortgage-sized debt for a low-percentage “opportunity” is a different matter entirely. And disclosure doesn’t cure, because every applicant is confident she will outperform her predictors.