TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, May 1, 2011

NY Times: Law Schools Award Merit Scholarships to Recruit Students (and Goose U.S. News Ranking), And Then Take Them Away With Rigid Grading Curves

New York Times, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win:

Like a lot of other college seniors, Alexandra Leumer got her introduction to the heady and hazardous world of law school scholarships in the form of a letter bearing very good news. The Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco had admitted her, the letter stated, and it had awarded her a merit scholarship of $30,000 a year — enough to cover the full cost of tuition.

To keep her grant, all that Ms. Leumer had to do was maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or above — a B or better. If she dipped below that number at the end of either the first or the second year, the letter explained, she would lose her scholarship for good. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be a challenge.”

Her grades and test scores were well above the median at Golden Gate, which then languished in the bottom 25% of the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings of law schools.

How hard could a 3.0 be? Really hard, it turned out. That might have been obvious if Golden Gate published a statistic that law schools are loath to share: the number of first-year students who lose their merit scholarships. That figure is not in the literature sent to prospective Golden Gate students or on its Web site.

But it’s a number worth knowing. At Golden Gate and other law schools nationwide, students are graded on a curve, which carefully rations the number of A’s and B’s, as well as C’s and D’s, awarded each semester. That all but ensures that a certain number of students — at Golden Gate, it could be in the realm of 70 students this year — will lose their scholarships and wind up paying full tuition in their second and third years.

Why would a school offer more scholarships than it planned to renew?

The short answer is this: to build the best class that money can buy, and with it, prestige. But these grant programs often succeed at the expense of students, who in many cases figure out the perils of the merit scholarship game far too late. ...

Nobody knows exactly how many law school students nationwide lose scholarships each year — no oversight body tallies that figure — but what’s clear is that American law schools have quietly gone on a giveaway binge in the last decade. In 2009, the most recent year for which the ABA has data, 38,000 of 145,000 law school students — more than one in four — were on merit scholarships. The total tab for all schools in all three years: more than $500 million.

It’s a huge sum, particularly when you realize that merit scholarships were exceptionally rare at law schools a mere generation ago. But given that many students lose their grants after the first year, the question is this: What exactly are law schools buying with all of that money? ...

[A] lot of schools regard the rankings as their best chance to establish a place in the educational hierarchy, which has implications for the quality of students that apply, the caliber of law firms that come to recruit, and more. Striving for a high U.S. News ranking consumes the bulk of the marketing budget of a vast number of schools.

Which is where scholarships come in.

The algorithm used by U.S. News puts a heavy emphasis on college grade-point averages and Law School Admission Test scores. Together, those two numbers determine about 22%of a school’s ranking. The bar passage rate, which correlates strongly with undergraduate GPA’s and LSAT scores, is worth an additional two points in the algorithm. In short, students’ academic credentials determine close to a quarter of a school’s rank — the largest factor that schools can directly control.

So the point of most merit scholarship programs, [University of St. Thomas law professor Jerry] Organ said, isn’t merely to tempt prospective students who might otherwise not attend, though that clearly is one result. “What law schools are buying is higher GPA’s and LSATs,” Professor Organ said. In other words, the schools are buying smarter students to enhance their cachet and rise in the rankings. ...

Some elite schools don’t give any merit scholarships, and some give them conditioned only on maintaining good academic standing — which translates to “don’t flunk out.” But merit stipulations — or stips, as they are known by students — are used by 80% of law schools for which information is publicly available, Professor Organ found.

And it’s not just institutions in the bottom half of the U.S. News rankings. If your school is ranked 35th, perhaps you’re gunning for No. 30 and you can see No. 40 creeping up in the rear-view mirror. ...

The Wayne State University Law School in Detroit tells merit scholarship winners in congratulations letters that they will need a 3.25 G.P.A. to keep their grants, worth nearly $25,000 a year. That means students need to wind up in the top third of their class. But that information isn’t in the letter. ... [D]isclosing exactly how hard it is to get a 3.25 could diminish Wayne State’s appeal to students the school wants most, which could have real repercussions. So many schools are packed so tightly together in the U.S. News rankings that even minuscule gains and losses have an impact.

In the most recent U.S. News rankings, released in March, the median LSAT score at Baylor Law School in Waco, Tex., stood at 162, up two points from the previous year. But that small uptick is part of the reason the school rose to No. 56 in the rankings — up eight spots on the list of 190. How many of Baylor’s 1L’s are on merit scholarships? 90%, according to David Swenson, a professor who helped design Baylor’s grant program. Given the GPA requirements, he added, 8 out of 10 of those students can expect to keep the money next year. “It was an accident,” said Professor Swenson, when asked why the school offered more scholarships this year than it is likely to renew. A greater number of 1L’s than expected enrolled at Baylor last fall, he explained, making it the largest class in the school’s history. ...

As common as GPA requirements are, they often barely register in applicants’ deliberations. The very human tendency to overestimate one’s talents is part of the problem. Like the children of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, all incoming 1L’s seem to believe that they are above average.

Consider what happens at Chicago-Kent, the school that offers students less scholarship money ($9,000) if they want it guaranteed, and more ($15,000) if they can clear the 3.25 G.P.A. hurdle. Ninety percent opt for the larger and riskier sum, according to school officials. A “significant” number later lose their scholarships, says the school’s dean, Harold J. Krent. “The real issue is that students don’t think about this decision in the sophisticated way that you’d like them to,” he added. “A lot of students think, ‘Well, worst comes to worst, I’ll borrow the money,’ without realizing how painful it is to pay that money back over time.”

Credit Chicago-Kent with forcing students to consider a trade-off, at least for a moment. Other schools phrase their scholarship offers in lump-sum terms that seem to encourage wishful thinking.

“The maximum value of your merit scholarship is $105,914 over the course of your three years of full-time study,” read an offer from the George Washington University Law School. A few paragraphs later, it said “as long as you maintain a 3.0 cumulative G.P.A.” ...

Combine the optimism of students and the enticing language of law schools, then toss in the curve, and an inevitable result is legions of irate and disappointed 1L’s.

Popular student mythology has it that the ABA requires law schools to grade them on a curve. Not so.  But by loading up 1L’s with curved classes, Golden Gate and other schools all but ensure that the first year of law school is far more difficult than the two that follow. Which is another way of saying that for many merit grant winners, law school becomes easier, but only after it is too late. ...

A lot of livid graduates and some slightly mortified professors have lately been contending that law schools are misleading prospective students about the marketability of a doctor of jurisprudence.

But the ABA seems unaware of the issues raised by merit grants. Its annual survey of law schools is granular enough to ask for the number of hours the library is open, but it doesn’t ask how many students lose their scholarships each year.

The schools already know that number. Why not publish it?

“That is a good question, a legitimate question,” said Bucky Askew, who directs the ABA division that accredits schools. “It hasn’t been an issue brought to our attention. Nobody has written us, contacted us, to say, ‘This needs to be on the table.’ ”

Why is merit scholarship retention not part of the U.S. News data haul? “The main reason is that we haven’t thought about it,” said Robert Morse, who oversees the rankings. “It’s not a great answer, but it’s an honest answer.”

Then Mr. Morse thought about it. “This isn’t meant to be sarcastic,” he said, “but these students are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.”

In a forthcoming paper, Professor Organ proposes a simple system of greater disclosure that, among other figures, would detail the number and percentage of students on scholarships in all three years.

(Hat Tip: Ann Murphy.) Professor Organ's paper is The Impact of Scholarship Programs on the Culture of Law School. Here is the abstract:

Law schools use scholarship programs to attract a variety of students, but many times such programs are driven by a desire to generate the “best” possible class profile based on LSAT and GPA, given that these factors play a significant role in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. This article documents the two types of scholarship programs widely in use among law schools in the United States – competitive renewal programs (in use at over 75% of law schools for which information was available) and non-competitive renewal programs (in use at fewer than 25% of the law schools for which information was available). It demonstrates why a competitive renewal program may be attractive (in terms of generating an entering class with a better LSAT and GPA profile), but also discusses some of the ways in which this type of program may have pernicious impacts on the learning community within the law school – the culture of the law school. It also makes recommendations for greater transparency and clarity when law schools make scholarship offers so that potential students can make better informed judgments regarding the investment they will be making when they choose a law school.

Update: Merit Scholarships, Grading Curves & US News as Law School Bait and Switch

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2011/05/ny-times-law-school.html

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c4eab53ef0154320db400970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference NY Times: Law Schools Award Merit Scholarships to Recruit Students (and Goose U.S. News Ranking), And Then Take Them Away With Rigid Grading Curves:

Comments

The term you are searching for is "fraud". It's a classic bait and switch. I bet discovery would reveal that instructors are briefed on how many students they have to fail. After all, once the mark's wasted a year of a life, how likely are they to quit?

Posted by: SDN | May 1, 2011 9:09:45 AM

The lame excuses presented by the schools here are disgusting. Let's substitute "University of Phoenix", "Strayer" or "Kaplan" for "Golden Gate University", "Chicago-Kent", or "Baylor" and substitute "Assocaites Degree" for "Law Degree". People on the left would be calling for heads to roll, for class action suits, and for criminal investigations. In fact that is actually happening:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/education/25education.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129751518

So, I ask, Senator Harkin and NPR, where is the outrage? When do the Senate hearings on this begin? Oh, that's right, people in the academy aren't interested in profits! That would be unseemly!

Posted by: JD Cynic | May 1, 2011 9:25:15 AM

"Then Mr. Morse thought about it. 'This isn’t meant to be sarcastic,' he said, 'but these students are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.'"

- Unfortunately reading the fine print doesn't tell you the system is gamed against you.

Posted by: Damon | May 1, 2011 9:53:18 AM

Law schools want the smartest students they can get their hands on. This is wrong?
They want to use a metric that correlates with high success in the students once they get there. This is wrong?
They grade on a curve. This is wrong?
The job market for JDs from middling schools who aren't at the top of their classes is dismal. The scholarships give students a shot at the brass ring, and lets them know quickly if they're wasting their time and the school's money. It's not supposed to be a guaranteed ticket on the gravy train.

Posted by: Texan99 | May 1, 2011 10:03:30 AM

'Where's the outrage?' How about 'where are the brains'? I'm sorry, I have less than zero sympathy for these young Perry Masons. Any law student too stupid to figure this out is too stupid to be of much use to anyone. And, sorry, it's not 'fraud' at all. Were students unaware that they would be graded on a curve? I doubt it. And if they were't aware, culpable negligence. What's more likely is that they are either too stupid to understand a normal distribution (highly likely), or, were guilty of a common psychological bias: 'I'm the exception to every rule'. Go tell it to the Marines, babies!

Posted by: Deckin | May 1, 2011 10:37:08 AM

This is silly. It took me 2 minutes and 21 seconds (I timed myself), to find Golden Gate's curve, which is on page 88 of their student handbook.

http://www.ggu.edu/school_of_law/law_student_services/student_handbook/attachment/2005-2006_GGU_Law_Handbook.pdf

Every halfway awake law school applicant knows law school is curved, so upon receiving that scholarship a logical question in their mind should be, "What does it take to keep this?" Law schools also dont tell students that if they commit crimes they may be kicked out...fraud. Or they may not pass the bar...fraud. Or that they may not like law school...fraud or their apartment may cost more than they can afford...fraud.

Or maybe everyone looking for the next scandal should recognize that these people are supposed to be adults, if they wanted to know their chances of maintaining their scholarship, all they had to do was look it up or call the school. That's what adults -- especially adults who want to be attorneys--- do.

Oh, and how hard was it for this student to maintain that B? No harder than being in the top 45 percent of the class.

At GG a B is

Posted by: GM | May 1, 2011 10:44:19 AM

Texan99 makes an excellent point. If a student can't perform well enough to maintain a 3.0 average at a lower tier law school, she is going to have an even rougher time on the job market.

Posted by: Kurt | May 1, 2011 11:25:58 AM

It appears to me that Mr. Morse is blissfully unaware of the role his organization plays in ensuring that the fine print includes all the information a prospective law student needs to make an informed decision. The fastest--and perhaps only--way to convince schools to disclose that information is for US News to require it, and to ding the school's ranking as a penalty for non-disclosure.

Posted by: Anonymous Midwestern 3L | May 1, 2011 11:29:34 AM

There is nothing wrong with this. A "merit" scholarship implies that the student has, and knows how to maintain, merit. Apparently, these schools aren't using the top 1/10, the top 1/5, the top 1/4 but they are letting the merit scholarship winners slip all the way into the top 1/3. That's a lot of slack. If all you can do is not flunk out, that's not meritoreous at all. These scholarships are not a prize for past work, they are an inducement for present success. No success, no money. That is not the slightest bit unfair.

If you get a merit scholarship, show that merit. Otherwise, someone (like me) with lower entry numbers but intelligence, motivation, and effort will take it away from you. Pardon me, but that IS EXACTLY how the real world works.

Posted by: 30yearProf | May 1, 2011 11:30:13 AM

Bait and switch is correct.
Thoroughly unethical is closer to the point.

I find the comments of Damon, Texan99 & Deckin intriguing. Do they have the same "read the fine print" scorn for the victims of Bernie Madoff? Or the homeowners who fell for the low introductory teaser rates of the predatory sub-prime lenders? Or of the victims of any other scam or pyramid scheme?

Very easy to blame the pigeons for their naivete. After all, its the truth - they should have known better! Suckers.

But the strength of this scam (like any good con) is that it preys on the hope and optimism of the victims. Each of us entering law school has always been at the top of our class, in grade school, high school and college. We are lectured in our law school orientation that "half of you will be in the bottom half of the class." A mathematical certainty. But we all earnestly believe that it will be someone else. And so when you're used and discarded, its your fault.

Bull-oney

Posted by: TaxJock | May 1, 2011 12:03:00 PM

GM:

Actually, if you'll read the linked article, you'll note that only the top one-third of the class gets a 3.0 or above. That makes sense; you have misread the implications of the handbook.

The curve states that 45%-60% of the grades are a B- or better. However, a B- is below a 3.0. So in reality almost certainly less than 50% of the grades, and possibly quite a bit less, are a 3.0 or better.

In addition, that's the grades on an individual class. The overall overages should be more tightly distributed around the B- (2.7) average grade than the grades on a single class (consider the Central Limit Theorem), so in reality a smaller percentage of people have a 3.0 average than post a 3.0 average in an average class. (Given that fewer than 50% of students get a B.)

Posted by: John Thacker | May 1, 2011 12:59:16 PM

Was ready to be outraged until I read GM's comment. Thanks for the link.

GGU, at least, discloses the curve. U.S. News could do a further public service by publishing merit based scholarship retention rates. Thus well informed prospective students can weight that factor in their choice of offers to accept.

Like publicly traded corporations with related party transactions, it is not wrong if fully disclosed. And like financial statement users who are expected to have enough to savvy to make an informed choice based on the information disclosed, we should expect bright students to also make informed choices based on publicly available information.

Posted by: James | May 1, 2011 1:49:54 PM

Then Mr. Morse thought about it. “This isn’t meant to be sarcastic,” he said, “but these students are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.”

Combine this with the non-dischargeability of student loans and inflated employment statistics and you get a system that prays on twenty-something-year-olds. When you call 'em up on it, they say these kids are going to be laywers and they need to learn how to read the fine print, so screw them. Pretty fucked.


Posted by: anon | May 1, 2011 2:01:16 PM

I went to Golden Gate and was offered a full academic scholarship by the school after my first semester as long as I maintained my grades. If you study hard, that's not that difficult to do. There was no bait and switch.

After I graduated, I went to work for a major international law firm (i.e., one of the Big Law firms that people here seem to covet so much). All in all, I had a pretty good experience.

Posted by: James Li | May 1, 2011 2:34:26 PM

As Damon suggests and one Volokh Conspiracy commenter noted more explicitly, this "scandal" is one of asymmetry of information (much like the well-publicized gaming of post-graduate employment statistics).

The question is not, as Texan99 and 30yearProf seem to suggest, whether competitive merit scholarships are "wrong"--but whether law schools have a duty to be forthcoming about how a particular institution distributes those monies and to provide *all* of the information a prospective student needs to weigh scholarship offers from different schools against one another, in order that the law-student-to-be can make a financially responsible decision.

Deckin's and GM's mocking demonstrates only that they have failed to understand the issue under discussion. Frankly, I doubt that either bothered to read the entire post here, much less follow the link to get the whole context, before spouting off from their perches high atop the ledge of perceived superiority. Deckin, in particular, should think long and hard before accusing others of stupidity for their failure to understand how basic statistical concepts apply here.

Knowledge of the existence and severity of a curve are only two tiny pieces of the information needed for an applicant to make an informed decision regarding the prospect of retaining a competitive merit scholarship. Equally important are the answers to questions such as:

* How many scholarships are given to each incoming class, and how many are retained after the first year? The frequency of scholarship offers and percentage of scholarships retained says something about how an individual applicant should interpret the scholarship offer in relation to his/her own skills, credentials, and potential. Many or most scholarship recipients may assume that the offer of the scholarship is indicative of the school's view of his/her potential relative to other applicants in his/her class--but if everyone gets a scholarship, this would clearly not be a reasonable assumption.

* How are scholarship recipients distributed among "sections"? The equation is VERY different if all are grouped in a single "honors" section--thereby pitting them against one another--than if they are assigned randomly or evenly among all sections--thereby putting them in competition with the class as a whole. It's simply not possible to make an informed judgment of what a normal grade distribution means to a particular person's scholarship-retention chances without knowing the characteristics of the population to which it will be applied.

To 30yearProf's point, it's fine to make continued receipt of merit scholarship money contingent upon continued demonstration of merit in law school. That surely is the way the real world works. But it's more than a little disingenuous to suggest that a prospective student--who has likely been showing merit throughout his/her entire academic career, and who has just had that merit apparently verified by receipt of a merit scholarship--should know, before ever setting foot in a law school classroom, how that past experience relates to law school in general (or to a particular law school's distribution of scholarship money).

Again: The complaint is that prospective students don't have the information they need to make an informed decision, NOT that scholarship money should be guaranteed. There's nothing wrong with competition for merit scholarships, even after they've been awarded, provided the people affected most directly--i.e., the students--were able to go into the competition with a full view of the big picture and the risks.

Posted by: Anonymous Midwestern 3L | May 1, 2011 2:46:07 PM

...and a grocery store has never put food on sale to get you in the door to buy the other overpriced stuff? Department stores don't do that? How about the car ad that shows a great discount on a particular car only to read the fine print that says there is only in stock with that discount, all others are full price. It's called marketing. It's normal in a competitive marketplace. The wise consumer learns to ask material questions.

What? should the law school give all of its product away? At some point, someone has to pay tuition.

Posted by: Phil | May 1, 2011 2:49:44 PM

I received a full scholarship for my first year of law school if I maintained a 3.0 GPA. Contrary to bait and switch analogy, it forced me to work even harder than I knew that I could which provided a solid foundation for my work as a lawyer.

Worst case scenario? 1/3 tuition discount. Best case was my result. $0.0 paid for tuition for a law degree. What is the upside if you drop out of law school or find you hate it? Well, you don;t have to pay back $30k of first years tuition after you realize that you hate law school (which is not an uncommon reaction).

Law school is hard. If you go into it without understanding the risks and rewards, the student does so at their own peril. It is not like "Legally Blonde" and it is harder than the "Paper Chase" provides for.

From 30 year prof "But the strength of this scam (like any good con) is that it preys on the hope and optimism of the victims." I disagree. If the student gets into a school, takes the LSAT, and is committed to go to law school, then the student will be saving, at minimum, a year's worth of tuition debt. The savings over the lifetime of the student in tuition payments and interest will be significant. Also unlike the movies, there are hundreds of thousands of lawyers that did not go to Harvard, but make a great living and are able to do cutting edge legal work.

Lastly, a law degree is a means to an end. It provides the ability to help clients and nothing else. What you do with that education, what doors you open, what opportunities you pursue are based on your own hard work.

Posted by: Alexz Adams | May 1, 2011 2:56:13 PM

It's called hard work people. Anyone can pull a 3.0 if they try. If you can't you have no business attending a University in the first place. Merit Scholarships paid for my entire education and I maintained a 3.9 GPA. I gave up a lot to meet that demand, but when someone else is giving you money for free to get an education, you don't dare squander it. As for those who do, well my grandmother had a saying: "The world needs ditch diggers too."

Posted by: A. Cire | May 1, 2011 6:22:52 PM

The law school I went to my 1L year did this. I was told that to keep my scholarship, I would need to stay in the top 25% of my class. That sounded like a perfectly reasonable requirement at the time. Then at some point during the first semester, I came to realize that my section was stacked with about 50% scholarship recipients. Because of the nature of the curve, statistically at least half of them would lose their scholarships. When I confronted the Dean, she lied to my face and said that scholarship recipients were evenly distributed among the sections. However, she refused to provide the break down of how many scholarship recipients there were in each section to confirm that assertion.

I ended up doing well enough to keep my scholarship, but transferred to a school about 70 spots higher in the rankings instead. I haven't regretted that decision for an instant.

Posted by: Sounds Familiar | May 1, 2011 6:29:46 PM

I don't know who comes off worse here, the schools for doing it, or the students who fall for it. Anyone who goes to a significantly less prestigious law school as a result of this kind of arrangement is . . . not very smart.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 1, 2011 9:39:42 PM

This is a made up issue and it partly exists because we have quite a large number of people in this country who believe they are entitled to x, y, and z just because they breathe. If you're going to make such a large life decision as going to a law school it is up to you to find out everything you can about it, the profession, and the employment prospects. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people who "lose" their scholarships spent more time selecting their next cell phone than they did on a) looking at their skills, b) looking at their potentials, and c) (assuming a and b lead to law) mapping a realistic course to becoming a lawyer.

Sorry, pumpkins, law is a very competitive field. I know a couple of people who were great lawyers for a firm but just didn't make partner and were let go. If you don't understand how some one could be a great lawyer but not make partner then you are not ready for law.

Posted by: Jello | May 1, 2011 9:51:37 PM

From the article:

The school’s dean, Drucilla Stender Ramey, declined to say exactly how many students would lose their scholarships this year, suggesting that doing so would violate the privacy rights of the students. ... “Of course some students are disappointed,” she said. “I thought I’d be 5-foot-10, and I’m 4-11.

Her good faith just shines through, no?

Posted by: Andy | May 1, 2011 10:42:22 PM

In the old days curves were the de facto standard. Now the real fraud is that most schools (law and undergrad) think that handing out A's and B's like candy should be the norm. But somehow hard curves are a sign of fraud.

What is the world coming to?

Posted by: uggh | May 1, 2011 10:45:41 PM

The law school ship be sinkin' cap'n...And I will savor every moment. Chalk one social justice win up for the internet! Fiat Lux!

Posted by: arrrrr | May 2, 2011 12:29:34 AM

Damon says, on May 1, 2011 9:53:18 AM:

"They grade on a curve. This is wrong?"

YES, YES, and YES!!!

Schools should be ranked on how many students pass the courses, period. The more students successfully learn the material, the better the school is (dependent on the material coursework, of course).

If 90% of the students get 100% of the course work correct, then they have a class with 90% "4.0". There is absolutely nothing wrong with this result; in fact it's a result to be celebrated.

If there is a problem with sub-standard performance after the students graduate, then adjust the COURSEWORK, not the GRADING. Grading MUST be strictly objective per material that is taught... no other method makes logical sense.

Irrational and unicorn-rainbow fantasies as "grading on a curve" must be eliminated entirely. They are absurd and illogical.

Posted by: MrJest | May 2, 2011 12:36:49 AM

"It's called hard work people. Anyone can pull a 3.0 if they try."

Did you try actually reading the article? Did you not understand the point made about rigid grading curves?

Posted by: Andy | May 2, 2011 1:01:09 AM

It would seem less harsh if offer letters explained that law school is difficult and keeping a scholarship is unlikely. Personally, I think law schools owe it to students to make this disclosure in their offer letters--and to do so explicitly. If they do not do so, shame on them. The decision to attend law school (or not, or which law school) is important and students are in a weaker position (in terms of bargaining and knowledge).

By the way, at some schools, one's abilities and hard work will not necessarily result in a 3.0+ GPA. For example, at my school, it was common for professors to fail the majority of students in the class because they did not feel that the class participation as a whole was sufficient. In some cases, they even failed every student in entire classes--despite graduation and scholarship requirements. This wasn't very long ago.

Posted by: Gary | May 2, 2011 10:38:20 AM

This game has been going on for years- at least 27 years which I have personal knowledge. A classmate of mine at "the U" 27 years ago received a scholarship as long as he maintained a 3.0. First year classes would have 1 A out of 100 students. Some classes the highest grade out of 100 would be a B or B+. Odds of success became 1-100 or less for anyone to maintain the scholarship after one year. He lost his scholarship-but look on the bright side, he had 1/3 of his ticket paid. Well, 27 years ago the tuition is not near what it is today-Grades on a 1-4.0 system is basically arbitrary and subjective, hence it is really a "lottery". Anyone can create a system where you cannot maintain a 3.0 as a practical matter. If they use a system which states top 1/5th or top 1/4 then the system would be fair. "Hard workers" would not be able to maintain a 3.9 at the "U" or anywhere else when no A grade is given out,the top grade is a B or B+, and you need to be 1 out of 100 to receive that grade.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M, Adjunct Professor, Graduate Tax Program, Northeastern University, Boston. | May 2, 2011 12:31:58 PM

So some of you actually think that hard work is what it takes to become successful in law school? LOL. That is exactly what any university wants you to think so you'll believe in your elevated sense of worth so your ego won't fail you. All law schools build you up for failure. All law schools teach the same curriculum. All law schools want to make money, it's a business. One of the hardest parts of my law school experience was merely trying to be treated like an adult. The staff was rude, unprofessional, and basically acted as though they could care less about us students. I spent weekends studying, alone, and I was a "friend" of the guards because I was the only one left at midnight doing my studying, but never once saw staff or admin's around. Tutor's available? That is another joke. The only thing my law school offered were the same books that I could have purchased at Barnes and Noble. My GPA in engineering and my MBA was received out of hard work, dedication, and a successful attitude. That won't make it in law school because it is a beast meant to fail you based on "you doing it all yourself without any help". That is not how you build leaders in today's world. There are no mentor's, assistant's, or anyone willing to sit with you and actually do a step-by-step method in understanding the theory and premise of law. Hard work, knowing your basic's of law for any given course, and memorizing your outline is not doing to do it. What it takes is pure luck and if your instructor likes you. I've heard discussion after discussion about how if your school has a high attrition rate, then it must be a hard, but a good school. Do you realize how idiot that kind of logic is? That is far from the truth. Attrition rates are high because you're set up to fail because of their lousy and outdated teaching methodologies. It is like throwing a kid into a lake and telling him to teach himself how to swim. Instead of preparing a student to understand and assimilate materials, idea's, and thought-provoking discussions, they're left on their own until exam day. Just because a student succeeded in getting out of this mess does NOT mean that they are good. No, they're just lucky. I know plenty of folk that would be excellent lawyers if it were not for the way law schools teach their antiquated methods. I also know plenty of students with almost zero communication skills and just plain zero common sense that passed the exams. Big deal, I am not impressed.

As for the ABA? That's is another ruse. The ABA is NOT a federally mandated authority and if you want to be a federal attorney, you do NOT need to attend an ABA approved school. The ABA is a private organization, period.

I have spent 20+ years in the engineering field writing and researching having a very good career. Going to law school was an insult to my intelligence and I felt so bad for the younger students that were completely deluded by the promises made by our law school.

When I did my MBA, I did it online and wrote a minimum 30 page research paper for each of my 15 classes and got a GPA of 3.69. Why? Because their MODERN style worked and I found out that I am better at self-study that in a class room. As for law school? I thought I had been transported to the 1800s. Awful experience it was so outdated. As for me, I will begin law school again soon (but online) and then get a job as a federal attorney. I refuse to lay down and be a paying puppet to this fraud by brick and mortar law schools and the ABA. And guess what? My cost per year is under $10k for three years.

As for my law school experience two years ago, I did my one year, paid my money, got out and never looked back. And the more I read about such experiences such in this article the better that I am completing my law degree my way.

Posted by: Scott | May 2, 2011 10:51:17 PM

One more thing that I failed to mentioned. If law schools truly want their students to succeed, they would implement a performance-based system on which they could measure their students performance during the entire first year. To have a school or university place a student, in a class, and not give them any knowledge of where they are going until exam day is asinine. I know of no employer or college that places their folks in a setting and just let's them go, day-by-day, without so much as any kind of feedback, performance rating, or guidance as a step-plan.

Posted by: Scott | May 2, 2011 11:03:16 PM

So some of you actually think that hard work is what it takes to become successful in law school? LOL. That is exactly what any university wants you to think so you'll believe in your elevated sense of worth so your ego won't fail you. All law schools build you up for failure. All law schools teach the same curriculum. All law schools want to make money, it's a business. One of the hardest parts of my law school experience was merely trying to be treated like an adult. The staff was rude, unprofessional, and basically acted as though they could care less about us students. I spent weekends studying, alone, and I was a "friend" of the guards because I was the only one left at midnight doing my studying, but never once saw staff or admin's around. Tutor's available? That is another joke. The only thing my law school offered were the same books that I could have purchased at Barnes and Noble. My GPA in engineering and my MBA was received out of hard work, dedication, and a successful attitude. That won't make it in law school because it is a beast meant to fail you based on "you doing it all yourself without any help". That is not how you build leaders in today's world. There are no mentor's, assistant's, or anyone willing to sit with you and actually do a step-by-step method in understanding the theory and premise of law. Hard work, knowing your basic's of law for any given course, and memorizing your outline is not doing to do it. What it takes is pure luck and if your instructor likes you. I've heard discussion after discussion about how if your school has a high attrition rate, then it must be a hard, but a good school. Do you realize how idiot that kind of logic is? That is far from the truth. Attrition rates are high because you're set up to fail because of their lousy and outdated teaching methodologies. It is like throwing a kid into a lake and telling him to teach himself how to swim. Instead of preparing a student to understand and assimilate materials, idea's, and thought-provoking discussions, they're left on their own until exam day. Just because a student succeeded in getting out of this mess does NOT mean that they are good. No, they're just lucky. I know plenty of folk that would be excellent lawyers if it were not for the way law schools teach their antiquated methods. I also know plenty of students with almost zero communication skills and just plain zero common sense that passed the exams. Big deal, I am not impressed.

As for the ABA? That's is another ruse. The ABA is NOT a federally mandated authority and if you want to be a federal attorney, you do NOT need to attend an ABA approved school. The ABA is a private organization, period.

I have spent 20+ years in the engineering field writing and researching having a very good career. Going to law school was an insult to my intelligence and I felt so bad for the younger students that were completely deluded by the promises made by our law school.

When I did my MBA, I did it online and wrote a minimum 30 page research paper for each of my 15 classes and got a GPA of 3.69. Why? Because their MODERN style worked and I found out that I am better at self-study that in a class room. As for law school? I thought I had been transported to the 1800s. Awful experience it was so outdated. As for me, I will begin law school again soon (but online) and then get a job as a federal attorney. I refuse to lay down and be a paying puppet to this fraud by brick and mortar law schools and the ABA. And guess what? My cost per year is under $10k for three years.

As for my law school experience two years ago, I did my one year, paid my money, got out and never looked back. And the more I read about such experiences such in this article the better that I am completing my law degree my way.

Posted by: Scott | May 2, 2011 11:06:59 PM

I don't think its about students being naive or law schools trying to trick students. Its just one more chink in the link to the US New's huge money maker that is grading law schools. The over reliance on going up and down some mythical matrix that somebody uses to predict who makes the smartest and best lawyers. Look at the posts here riding Golden Gate like its a sub-par law school. Perhaps there is some antidotal evidence but as far as statics all we know it is in the bottom 25% like it might as well be a school certified in Mexico. I just left law school these so-called smart people are the twits that spend their time in class on Face book, using notes and outlines from a previous year, and doing everything they can not to be called on. Yet this is how Law Schools spend their time trying to get a higher rank and the money makers at US News are cashing it in, while I'm wondering where the job is, and how to pass the bar... Glad I graduated from a school with a great ranking! Thanks a lot US News your "transparency" is about as good as Obama's.

Posted by: Robert | May 3, 2011 12:42:10 AM

Alot of you are lawyers- you should be outraged. If these were uneducated consumers who were being hood winked we'd have a multi billion dollar class action in the works. Becasue these are "baby lawyers" we expect them to to be above it all. Wrong. These are on average 20 somethings who have never worked a day in their lives and have had mommy and daddy pay their bills. Do you think it occurs to them that the law school will stack sections to make sure that not everyone keeps their scholarship? No. And they shouldn't have to. Is asking for dislcosure really so onerous? And shame on the schools for pulling this in the forst place. They should be outed and dragged through the streeets for the slime they really are. ABA is considering required disclosure- watch the law school practices change overnight at the more dubious institutions. (And people wonder why lawyers are no longer respected?)

Consumers have Reg Z to protect them, to force disclosures of meaningful substantive terms, and disclosures are required when much smaller sums are at stake. Shame on law schools, the ABA and Congress. Wait till 100,000 unemployed law school graduates with non discahrgeable debt start defaulting on their law school loans...

As somenone above noted, Kaplan and other diploma mills have been raked over the coals for similar pactices. How come no outrage here?

A comment notes $500 million spent so that schools can jigger their numbers to move up a couple fo notches on an arbitrary chart, while law school tuition for those that do pay soars(and is repaid usually by taking on 150,000 in non dischargeable debt). Is this supposed tomake logicalor economic sense? THink what would happen if all those dollars went into actually TEACHING!

Yes law schools are driven by US NEWS- sad to say. Wouldn't it be better if schools schools attracted students based on the teaching ability of the faculty, condition of facilities, breadth of curriculum, bar passage rates, and the employment of their graduates? Who cares about libraries? - no one uses them with electronic legal research available. Publishing? Nice, but if you want to be a practicing inner city lawyer, do you really care if your really great clinic prof has published? Maybe you care more that they were an AUSA, successful Pub Int Lawyer, or worked at DOJ? Find better metrics US News.

Finally, maybe the answer is to bar ALL grants and scholarships up front.

What's the relevance of a parent's income and assets if it is the student who is going to be making 160k (or not). Why do you saddle the 23 something with middle class parents with 160000 in debt, while the student whose parents never made it- for whatever reason- (maybe they used everythig they had for UG?) get a free ride? Both students have the same ability to get loans (without regard to ability to repay by the way) and both have the same prospects of making it or not when they graduate law school. This has nothing to do with creating opportunity. Create a level playing field for all students.

Give tuition grants AFTER students earn them, or expand LRAPS to cover EVERYONE, putting the dollars to best use where they belong, with those who graduate. ANYONE who gets a 160k job has to pay it back as a reasonable percentage of their salary, say 10% per year, and at an interest rate that reflects cost of funds (3% say) rather than the extortionate 7.9% the government now mandates- (by the way nice job government- cutting out the low cost private lenders), The high interest rate is used to subsidize the high default rates of undegrads, not the low default rates of grad school borrowers - whose debt is non discahrgeable anyway. Get real and allocate dollars more sensibly.

Anyone who takes a lower paying law job or can't get a job would have to be subsidized by the school they went to- now THERE is an incentive to get good students and to train them well.

By the way a side benefit of this is probably fewer law schools, and fewer law students, and fewer unemployed lawyers.

What do you think?

Posted by: Westbayguy | May 5, 2011 12:56:35 PM