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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

L.A. Times: Loyola Shrinks 1L Class Amidst Soft California Job Market

Loyola-L.A. Logo (2013)Front page story in this morning's Los Angeles Times, Faced with Job Complaints, Loyola Law School Accepting Fewer Students:

Loyola, southwest of downtown Los Angeles, enrolled 20 fewer applicants than last year, about an 5% drop — and a loss of about $1 million. The incoming 360 students are about 15% fewer than the school has averaged over the last decade, [Dean Victor] Gold said. ...

In California, which has about 21 accredited law schools, the first-year class at USC's Gould School of Law shrank by nearly 30 students last year, while UCLA's is about 15 students smaller this year compared to last.

"It's common sense," said Brian Z. Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has written extensively about the business of law schools. "People know that a lot of graduates are not doing well and that [law school] is a huge expense, so they question if it's really worth it."

Loyola administrators made the move to cut class sizes soon after the school fell 17 places — from 51st to 68th —in the most recent U.S. News & World Report's rankings. Much of Loyola's drop is due to California's soft job market, which meant graduates couldn't find work, Gold said. "Reality has caught up to higher education," said Gold, who has served as dean since 2009. "The job market is still very slow, and we have a moral obligation not to just take tuition dollars and then turn a blind eye when our graduates can't find jobs."

Prospective students look closely at national rankings to decide where to apply, and schools typically use them for publicity and to attract donors. These listings take into account schools' selectivity, job placement and bar exam passage rates, among other things.

"Schools are in a tough financial position. Rankings should not drive students away or toward schools, but they do," said Paul L. Caron, a law professor at Pepperdine University. "So small moves can have very significant consequences."

Gold acknowledged that Loyola's move was partly to protect the school's image — "I wouldn't be honest if I said rankings don't matter," he said — but added that it wasn't his main motivation to drop class size.

Universities that fall below the top 20 in law school rankings are more likely to see enrollment declines, while schools at the bottom of the list "will continue to take as many as they can enroll," Tamanaha said. Others say the top-tier schools are not as adversely affected. "It's the schools in the middle that have to compete more by either giving more scholarships or dropping their class sizes," Tamanaha said. "There are a bunch of schools that are doing both and are still seeing reductions in their" incoming class test scores.

At Hastings, which placed 48th in the latest rankings, 20 spots ahead of Loyola, administrators cut their class by nearly a fifth last year. The first-year class of nearly 320 students was the lowest in school history. The San Francisco school also cut 10 staff members and offered buyouts but did not lay off professors, said Frank H. Wu, the dean and chancellor. "We didn't touch the core," Wu said.

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