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.
Friday, January 29, 2016
[by Rick Bales]
I found this chart from a recent article in The Economist surprising -- the U.S. significantly lags Australia, Britain, and Canada in the percentage of higher-education students hailing from foreign countries -- and this despite the fact that Britain is actively discouraging foreign students from coming to Britain.
The problem in the U.S. is our visa system. The Economist explains that the U.S. "visa rules are needlessly strict and stress keeping out terrorists rather than wooing talent. It is hard for students to work, either part-time while studying or for a year or two after graduation."
Our system of legal education is widely seen as the gold standard throughout the world. Our law schools need more students. Perhaps this is an area where Access Group can lobby Congress to help ease student visa restrictions and grow the pie for American law schools and all of American higher education.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency has an interesting post today at Above the Law. It discusses a letter he, Bill Henderson and former Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court Randall Shepard (who was also the Chair of the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education) sent to US News in 2014 proposing some changes to the rankings methodology.
They would get rid of the "faculty resources" factors (the parentheticals are the weight currently given in the rankings to each factor):
- Expenditures per Student (9.75%): The amount spent on instruction, library and supporting services divided into total J.D. student enrollment.
- Modified Expenditures per Student (1.5%): The amount spent on instruction, library and supporting services, plus financial aid, divided into total J.D. student enrollment.
- Student-Faculty Ratio (3%): The ratio of students to faculty members, according to the ABA definition.
- Library Resources (0.75%): The total number of volumes and titles in the school's law library.
In their place, they suggest that US News use either:
- Expenditures per High-Quality Job; or
- Tuition Revenue per High-Quality Job
Expenditures are a very poor measure of any type of academic quality. Worse, over the years, this factor has undoubtedly contributed to tuition increases, since spending more money on anything marginally helps in the rankings. My preference would be to get rid of any factor related to expenditures at all. But given the reality that US News likes to appear "scientific" and probably wants to keep some form of expenditure data, a link between expenditures and job outcomes, however imperfect, would probably be an improvement.
Monday, January 11, 2016
That is the important question raised by a new report from the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center. There are important forces at work - globalization and technology in particular - which will shape the legal profession and legal education in the decades ahead. We in legal education have a real stake in law firms' success. We need a more productive dialogue than has generally been taking place.
Friday, January 8, 2016
I cannot believe it is January already, and that the AALS annual meeting is in full-force. While I have been a critic of the AALS in the past, I am happy to see the progress Judith Areen has made with the organization, since she took over as executive director. The organization has finally embraced technology under her leadership, and she seems genuinely interested in listening to, and working with the member schools. Furthermore, the organization is actively trying to reduce the expenses of those attending the meeting this year. SEALS has always been aggressive in its negotiations with conference hotels, and this year is the first year I felt that AALS negotiated on behalf of its membership.
Some other observations:
- It is heartening to see that this year's conference has broadened participation by those new to legal education, and that the panels seem to be more inclusive than ever.
- The publishing companies and other vendors in the exhibition hall have definitely scaled back on their promotional items, and their receptions for authors have been scaled back, as well.
- The publishing companies are much more focused on electronic access, than on hard-copy publication. They have unveiled new products to help law schools with the formative assessment now required by the ABA.
- CALI continues to be the leader in providing free casebooks, with a goal of cutting student costs. CALI has been the voice in the wilderness for many years.
- UC Irvine was granted membership in the AALS on January 7. Congratulations to that school for its continued success during challenging times.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Jerry has posted another interesting analysis, this time of changes in the prevalence of conditional scholarships since the ABA began requiring disclosure of renewal rates. Again, I would ask you to consider how common this approach to scholarship assistance would be if it were not for U.S. News? Still, it is a good thing that prospective students now have information about the renewal rate at each school, so they can make more informed decisions.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
The press release is here and the new rules are here. As a general matter, I do not like the proliferation of state-by-state requirement beyond the ABA Standards for admission to the bar. I particularly don't like NY's pro bono requirement, which I think is unfair to law students. I would first impose a pro bono requirement on admitted lawyers. I do have some sympathy for skills requirements like these new rules because they are closely linked to one's ability to practice law competently and the ABA has been slow to evolve in this area. I wonder, though, if Pathway 1 in NY will swallow up the rest of the rule. What law school will not certify that its graduates are ready to practice?
Friday, December 11, 2015
[by Rick Bales]
I wanted to riff on a couple of David Yellen's recent posts, one noting the relative paucity of law school closures given recent application/enrollment declines, and the other noting the increase in the hiring of non-academic university presidents.
Regarding law school closures, I think the real question is not why more law schools haven't closed, but why more law schools haven't moved or been sold. Texas A&M's acquisition of the former Texas Wesleyan law school, discussed extensively in the most recent Journal of legal Education, shows this can be done, and at great profit to the selling institution. Among other things, I suspect that a sale would allow the selling institution to monetize the present value of much of the sold law school's endowment. More importantly, it would move law schools to parts of the country that are underserved legal education markets (and where a law school would be a valuable acquisition for a university) from parts of the country that have too many law schools relative to population and demographic trends, where the current value of a law school to a university is financially negative. Yes, there are regulatory/accreditation hurdles to overcome, and alumni will have to be assuaged, but neither are by any stretch insurmountable obstacles.
Regarding college presidents, in my very limited experience, the most obvious academic stepping-stone to a college presidency is being a college provost. But at least at the institutions with which I am most familiar, the skill set required of a successful provost (accreditation, curriculum, acute attention to detail) is radically different from the skill set required of the modern college president (external/alumni relations, fundraising, budgeting, big-picture vision, ability to balance the university as a business with the university as an institution of public service). Except for the last of these, all of these skills seem to align better with someone who has leadership experience in the business world -- or leadership of a relatively autonomous professional school like a law school -- than with someone who has experience as a provost. Maybe universities are looking for presidents in all the wrong places.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Interesting article in The Atlantic. Of course, we have seen a similar trend in the hiring of law school deans. My completely unscientific observation is that law school deans who have come from outside of the academic world have a "success rate" roughly the same as that of deans from within the academic world. I wonder if that is really true, and whether there is a difference in the success rate of outsiders for Presidents and Deans.
Here. Will there be other similar moves, or school closures? It is pretty remarkable that no law school has closed during this crisis. Compare that with dental schools, which experienced a dramatic decline in applications and enrollment from the late 1970's to 1980's. During that time, 6 of the 60 dental schools closed. In recent years, though, applications have been increasing (almost back to the level of the late 1970's) and some new schools have opened. Are Universities just more committed to "waiting it out" with law schools?
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
In case you missed it, here are the demands that a group of students and staff presented to Harvard Law School on Friday. The "deadline" for the school to agree to the demands passed yesterday. It is hard to imagine that Harvard will be the last law school to face this type of challenge.
Friday, December 4, 2015
I am pleased to announce, that we (Loyola Chicago) are transitioning our part-time program from an evening based model to a flexible weekend, blended learning model. The main features are these:
*students will attend classes on campus seven weekends per semester;
*1/3 of the work for each course will be done through distance learning. This will include lectures, chats, assessment activities, etc.;
*a broad curriculum, taught by full-time faculty and including a range of experiential learning opportunities, will be offered
We have been offering online Masters of Jurisprudence and LL.M degrees for five years. We have learned that online teaching, when done properly, can be as effective as in-class instruction. We believe that this flexible format will appeal to modern, busy adults interested in pursuing a law degree part-time. As structured, the program is in compliance with all current ABA Standards.
More information is available here. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Dan Bernstine, the President of the Law School Admissions Council has issued a release arguing that the recent report by Law School Transparency misuses LSAT scores in labeling students as being at "high risk" for failing the bar exam and in making gradations based on difference of a point or two in LSAT scores.
Kyle McEntee of LST recently relied on his LSAT research to urge the ABA Section of Legal Education to strictly enforce Standard 501(b) ("A law school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar."). Bernstine's letter illustrates the danger in simply relying on LSAT scores in making this judgment. Standard 501 is also internally inconsistent and problematic on other levels. Law school outcomes, rather than inputs, should be more important in the accreditation process. As McEntee points out, though, the current bar pass standard is not very useful either in determining whether any schools should be at risk for losing their accreditation.
UPDATE: Kyle McEntee has asked that I post his initial response to Dan Bernstine's release. Here it is:
"The assertion that LSAT scores alone measure comparability is patently wrong."
The report does not make this assertion. Indeed, the report says:
According to the Law School Admissions Council's (LSAC) National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study, the LSAT is the best predictor before law school as to whether a student will pass or fail the bar exam.
Declining LSAT scores of admitted students is the first indicator of a potential bar passage disaster that won't be evident for three years to the students who are affected, and four years to the ABA. We cannot be afraid to use the best tool we have.
The framework represents only a starting point for assessing the risk of bar failure. A student with a low LSAT score but very high undergraduate GPA, for example, has less risk of failing the bar than a student with the same LSAT score and a very low UGPA. Some law schools have also been more successful than others in helping students with low LSAT scores succeed on the bar exam. Where the student takes the bar exam matters as well.
On average, however, students with LSAT test scores in each band are more likely to experience academic attrition and/or bar exam failure than students in the next higher band. If a school dips into lower LSAT bands to fill its class, the risk of bar failure at that school increases. This framework, therefore, offers a useful tool for analyzing which schools are enrolling a significant number of students who face genuine risk of not finishing school or passing the bar. Importantly, this framework shows when relative change in incoming student credentials matters.
If any schools do figure out how to improve bar outcomes for students with low predictors, they have a duty to share that information with other schools and at-risk students — with an emphasis on empirical data rather than hopeful conjecture.
"LSAC has long cautioned against drawing such fine distinctions in LSAT scores."
The LSAT is one tool we have. It is a great one; it is a starting point. There is a statistically significant correlation, and correlations do not require that the tool was designed for that purpose.
If LSAC has any reason to show that the study -- which our report did not depend on -- is invalid today, it should show why instead of baldly claiming it. LSAC certainly should not assert that it is not valid for bar exam conclusions, and in the very next sentence assert that the eventual bar passage rate of the students in the study is 90 percent.
Will any law school dean or academic support administrator or faculty member come out and say that their school's falling bar exam rates are due to a lower quality legal education at the school compared to prior years? If not, what else explains the uniform fall in rates than the students? We're listening. An honest assessment is essential to stop the falling bar pass rates.
LSAC's decision to speak out is an obvious attempt by a minority of law schools taking unjust risks to change the conversation through the appearance of an impartial entity. LSAC is anything but impartial. LSAC is an agent of law schools.
The best these schools can do is make strawman arguments through a mouthpiece. LSAC's voice comes from all law schools. It trades on your reputation to justify unprofessional and immoral choices in the face of financial pressure. I hope the majority of law schools refuse to stand for this. It's terrible for the legal profession in the short and long term.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Really interesting career move for Pat, the former long-time dean at Seton Hall's law school. He served as interim AD for awhile at Seton Hall when they were recovering from a scandal, so he's an inspired choice for a troubled Rutgers program. Good luck Pat!
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
On the most recent episode of The Good Wife, an applicant for an associate position at a large law firm is disparaged for attending "Loyola Law School" (I assume it is Loyola Chicago, since that is where the show is set). The partners reveal themselves to be snobs and racists, so who would want to work there anyway. But had the show been striving for accuracy, they should have been crawling all over themselves to hire a Loyola graduate. As Bill Henderson demonstrated a few years ago, graduates of our school who are hired by large firms become partners at a rate 6 times or more greater than graduates from elite schools (although a far higher percentage of elite school graduates are hired by such firms). The same is true for graduates of many other strong regional schools.
Of course, the writers were probably just trying to caricature elitism in the legal profession. And at least they weren't as bad as the New York Times!
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Paul Campos has an entertaining post on a very interesting psychological phenomenon in football. Coaches of teams trailing late in a game routinely punt on fourth down when the statistical evidence is quite clear that their small chances of winning would actually be increased by trying to get a first down. They often talk about "extending the game." They worry about doing something bold, which might fail in a very visible way, but their caution actually increases the likelihood of ultimate failure.
Although Professor Campos doesn't explicitly make the link, is this an analogy for some of the timidity in legal education as we face long odds and a dwindling clock?