Saturday, July 16, 2011

New York Law School Rakes In Dollars While Students Flounder

Legal news seems to be hitting the mainstream; this article in the Times is follows up nicely to my post from several days ago about law schools.

The article confirms the anecdotes I've heard from my former college classmates who have entered law school:  schools are focused on increasing their rank in US News and World Report instead of teaching or finding jobs for students.  Part of this focus involves deceiving would-be students about their prospects for employment following graduation.  Stories like this, combined with stories like this, make me wonder if investment bankers are the ones running schools.

Richard Matasar is the dean of New York Law School (which, for the record, is not New York University Law School).  He's long claimed that schools that don't serve their graduates' interests should shut themselves down - since, of course, the objectives of a law school are to prepare its students to become lawyers.  That makes sense to me.  I'll excerpt some relevant quotes, but the entire article is worth reading.

N.Y.L.S. is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country, but with tuition and fees now set at $47,800  a year, it charges more than Harvard. It increased the size of the class that arrived in the fall of 2009 by an astounding 30 percent, even as hiring in the legal profession imploded. It reported in the most recent US News & World Report rankings that the median starting salary of its graduates was the same as for those of the best schools in the nation — even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.

[I teach math, so I think I can tackle this: If most graduates earn less than half the reported median salary... someone's made a mistake in the reporting.)

Asked if there was a contradiction between his stand against expanding class sizes and the growth of the student population at N.Y.L.S., Mr. Matasar wrote: “The answer is that we exist in a market. When there is demand for education, we, like other law schools, respond.”

[Shouldn't law schools be leading students, not following them?]

The article outlines how the school increased the number of students who enrolled and earned an extra $6.7 million, while only adding costs of about $500,000.  Law schools are so profitable that some of them send 20-30% of their revenue to other parts of the university to subsidize less profitable departments (not NYLS, which is an independent school).  NYLS's enrollment allowed the school to improve its bond rating for an upcoming building project; some argue that adding more students to the class makes it tougher for graduates to get the few legal jobs available.  See below:

“At a school like New York Law, which is toward the bottom of the pecking order, it’s long been difficult for our students to find high-paying jobs,” said Randolph N. Jonakait, a professor at N.Y.L.S. and a frequent critic of Mr. Matasar’s. “Adding more than 100 students to an incoming class harms their employments prospects. It’s always been tough for our graduates. Now it’s tougher.”

The article states clearly, as others have done, that law schools overstate their employment numbers and make impressive claims ($160,000 salary!) with a lot of data missing (only 26% reporting).  How is it that schools of all types feel that they can review important statistics, disregard the ones they dislike, and promote a farcical version of the truth?  It's upsetting when teachers in Atlanta or Philadelphia change students' answer keys, it's embarrassing that there are countless degree programs from for-profit colleges that leave graduates with no job prospects and huge debt, and it's shocking that law schools seem to be doing something similar.  While they're not outright lying, they set the bar for ethics and disclosure lower than I'm comfortable with.

I'm not sure how many readers have experience with this side of the education world, but if you do, let us know about it in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Recent law school graduate. All of this is very true. I didn't know about the transferring of money from the law school to the main campus, but I'm not surprised.

    I think you also have to look at the rise in legal salaries over the 1990's and early 2000's as part of the problem. The legal field was a big bubble, and this is part of the bursting. Same with the fact that a lot of recently hired associates were/are being laid off left and right because the business model for a lot of firms in a lot of ways turned into a ponzi scheme that required more and more associates to keep the revenue coming.

    Not sure what to do about it. If debt could magically disappear (i.e., have the government write it off or something), it could go a long way to making this not an issue. Given that lawyers, new and old, and their families are fairly well represented and paid attention to in politics this might not actually be impossible.