July 21, 2011
ABA Responds To Senator Grassley
I wrote a post one week ago, Senator Asks ABA Questions About Scholarships and Debt, commenting on letter sent by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the American Bar Association. He asked questions on scholarships, debt loads for students, default rates, and the professional background of the committee memberships associated with law school accreditation. The full list of questions he asked is in the post. Senator Grassley asked for an answer by July 25th. I wrote in my initial post “I hope he makes the ABA's answers public and that they aren't paternalistic babble.” The response came yesterday in the form of a letter with attachments. A copy is available from the Wall Street Journal, where Nathan Koppel writes about the response in the WSJ Law Blog. Is the letter paternalistic babble? Here’s the last paragraph from Koppel’s commentary:
The gist of the ABA’s response, to our eyes, is: Don’t worry, we’re paying close enough attention to law schools. Given the hue and cry about law schools in recent years, we’re guessing some may not find this response satisfactory.
The ABA does not respond to each individual question. Rather, it offers a group response to the subject raised by Senator Grassley. It is much easier in that way to make statements such as:
From 2005 to 2010, total scholarship assistance to students has grown from $536 million to $899 million (an increase of over 67%) and the total number of recipients has grown from 60,000 to 69,000 students. Nearly half (47%) of all law students enrolled in ABA-approved law schools in 2010 received scholarship assistance through their law schools.
It sure sounds positive, though it is followed by:
The Questionnaire does not currently ask for retention rates (i.e., how many students retain the scholarships into their second and third years) because there is no Standard regarding retention of scholarships, and data has not been collected on scholarship retention.
So, when Senator Grassley’s first question is “1. Does the American Bar Association compile data on the number of schools which offer scholarships to more students than can statistically retain those scholarships?” I guess the answer is “no.” Note to lawyers and law students: try answering interrogatories and deposition questions this way and see how a federal judge reacts. The follow-up questions aren’t addressed in specific detail, such as whether bait and switch allegations are considered in accrediting a school. The ABA essentially says there is no bait and switch on scholarships. Some students simply don’t meet the qualifications for keeping such scholarships such as maintaining a certain GPA or class rank. It’s their fault. Either way, the ABA says no one has complained. Yeah, it’s a tough, competitive world out there. And while we’re at it, let’s not talk about how schools might be using grading curves to keep those who do qualify for scholarship money to a minimum.
The ABA answered the debt questions by saying they require schools to provide debt counseling, financial aid counseling, and career counseling and that the inspection teams collect information about how schools are doing in meeting the standards. No mention, though of how, in fact, schools are doing. The ABA supplied default rates for 19 schools unaffiliated with universities with most of those have a rate of fewer than 2.2%. One school, John Marshall in Atlanta, was an anomaly at 7.1% (Attachment 5). There are no statistics for the 181 other law schools as their default rates are part of the larger university statistic. The ABA does not force them to break it out. Oh well, some things are better left unknown.
The ABA answered the questions on the growing number law schools, law school graduates, and the diminishing number of jobs this way:
The net increase in ABA-approved law schools over the past 20 years from 174 in 1990 to 200 in 2011 represented a growth in the number of law schools of 14.9% as compared to a net growth of the United States’ population of 24.2% from the 1990 to the 2010 census. Most of the new law schools were formed in states or regions where there has been rapid growth in population or in other areas historically underserved by legal education. And, perhaps more to the point, neither that Department of Education nor the antitrust laws allow the ABA to cap or limit the number of accredited law schools.
How does that go, if you build them to our minimum standards, we’ll accredit them. That “areas historically underserved by legal education” is a common justification for universities or for-profit groups to justify building another law school in a saturated market. But the ABA is right. If people fool themselves into going to law school when market conditions suggest that jobs are scarce, why is that the organization’s problem? The employment data is all there in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools. So listen up, prospective law students, do your research before you incur debts you can’t pay back. Look at those statistics compiled in the guide. And when you do see the numbers, note that while there may be a percentage of employment listed for the class, you won’t find any salary information. You won’t know whether graduates are making $120,000 or $45,000. I guess that is information that will have to get reported empirically in (unreliable?) news articles.
Speaking of news articles, the ABA chides Senator Grassley for relying on the muckrakers at the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The Section would also like to address concerns raised in the body of the letter of July 11, 2011, to President Zack. On June 9, 2011, the Section leadership appeared before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). The article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on-line that evening seriously misconstrued the outcome of that appearance. The accreditation staff of the Department of Education recommended the continuing recognition of the Section and NACIQI voted by substantial majority to accept the staff recommendation (of the 18 members of NACIQI, four voted in opposition). A majority of the Committee did not “express its frustration” with the ABA; only two members of the minority did. In addition, the NACIQI staff findings did not conclude that the ABA “appears to be doing little to assess student loan defaults.” The staff found that the Accreditation Project, when gathering data on student loan defaults through its school questionnaires, does not have a benchmark for what is an unacceptable default rate. You will see from the answers above that student loan default rates at ABA-approved independent law schools are very low. The Section regrets that the Chronicle article contained this misinformation.
We don’t like your implications, sir. Beware you may hear from our solicitors. Perhaps these hearings ought to be public and broadcast on C-SPAN with follow-up comments in a panel discussion by the hearing officers. Oh no, that would violate someone’s privacy. [MG]