November 15, 2011
Are the ABA and AALS Ready for Congressional Hearings on the Legal Academy's Gaming of Stats?
Quoting from yesterday's WSJ story, Lawmakers Probe Law Schools' Data [sub. req.], ABAJ's Debra Cassens Weiss reports
Lawmakers who are gathering a “treasure trove” of data about law schools could use the information in congressional hearings, according to a published report. ... According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), an unnamed congressional staffer says senators are “strongly considering” hearings. “Congressional hearings, were they to happen, wouldn't necessarily lead to legislation,” the story says. “But they would represent the most aggressive congressional move yet into the controversy over law-school transparency.”
For more, see Weiss' Will Senate Hold Hearings on Law Schools? Lawmakers’ Data Collection Could Be Backdrop.
"[P]lainly gearing up for hearings" is how U Chicago law prof, Brian Leiter characterizes the prospect for congressional hearings because of repeated information requests to the ABA from several senators. Certainly the less than informative responses issued by the ABA clearly deserves congressional hearings. Leiter adds in his Law School Reports post "[t]he ABA and AALS are presumably taking note."
The possibility of congressional hearings should make for interesting hallway conversations at AALS's upcoming annual meeting. If hearings are conducted, NLJ's Law School Review blog will make for very interesting reading. My hunch is a couple of the Law School Review bloggers may be called to testify. LLB's co-editor, Mark Giangrande, has been following the exchange between US senators and the ABA since July of this year. The best way to review Mark's posts is to use LLB"s "Law School News and Views" tag.
After almost a decade of criticizing US News for relying on unaudited placement stats, Leiter observes:
What's obviously changed the equation enough to garner Senatorial attention to the matter is (1) the general economic collapse, which has taken its toll on the legal profession as well, and so highlighted the unreality of many of the employment numbers schools have reported; and (2) the increasing debt burden of law students, which, given (1), are increasingly going to be debts that are not repaid.
Another angle of loan default rates can be viewed in Matt Wirz's What Hedge Funds Can Teach College Students (WSJ Nov. 12, 2011):
Investors like [hedge fund manager Daniel] Ades have a unique view on the future for America's job-seekers. Their investments depend on accurately predicting young people's ability to repay their loans, which means they obsess about everything from employment rates by profession to the long-term earning potential of young graduates.
In terms of picking a school, technical colleges may be less prestigious, but their low cost relative to the higher wages they deliver makes them attractive, according to Mr. Ades. ... technical colleges come out on top, Mr. Ades said. "We're in a skills based economy and what we need is more computer programmers, more [nurses]," he said. "It's less glamorous but it's what we need."
Law school, on the other hand, can end up a sucker's bet in periods of high unemployment, experts in student loan-backed bonds say.
While college students often enroll in professional programs to wait out economic soft patches, the U.S. has far more law schools than other professional schools, resulting in an excess supply of lawyers, argue investors and analysts.
Leiter adds in his Law School Reports post:
One hopes that in addition to calling relevant ABA officials to testify about oversight (or lack thereof), they will also ask Bob Morse to testify, to explain why, despite years of complaints, U.S. News never audited the data it both published in its magazine and factored into its rankings.
In addition to officials from the ABA and AALS and US News rankings guru Bob Morse, I'm thinking some law school deans and administrators (like, perhaps, Illinois Law's now former admissions dean) also should be called to testify. [JH]