Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Law School Hunger Games? Profs Debate The Ethics Of Conditional Scholarships

  • Hunger Games 2 Jeremy Telman (Valparaiso), Another Transparency Issue: Conditional Merit-Based Scholarships:  "Students who lose their merit-based scholarships for law school will have to choose whether to continue through two more years of law school at full price, transfer to a less expensive law school, or reconsider career options. It is good to have choices. It makes sense for law schools to continue to use conditional merit scholarships to attract students, and most likely, those students will benefit from the opportunities created by those fellowships, whether they enjoy those benefits for one year or three."
  • Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall), Are Conditional Scholarships Good for Law Students?:  "Professor Telman ... [makes] a powerful argument. Are conditional scholarships yet another example of critics applying a double standard to paint law schools in the worst possible light?"
  • Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Hunger Games:  "Some law schools ... impose conditions that, because of mandatory curves in required first-year courses, a significant percentage of recipients will fail to meet. It is mathematically impossible for all scholarship recipients to keep their awards at these schools, and the percentage who will fail is quite predictable to the schools. These are hunger-game scholarships."

  • Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall), Scholarships, Grade Inflation, and Motivation: "Given the goal of attracting and retaining the best students, rewarding motivation and ability seems like a reasonable policy. Anecdotes notwithstanding, the evidence suggests that most college and law students understand the terms of conditional scholarships well. "
  • Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), More on Grade and Scholarship Quotas:  "As I stated in my previous post, the ABA’s rule has cured two of the ills previously associated with high-forfeiture conditional scholarships. Schools may continue to offer them, subject to that rule. It appears that schools differ widely in the operation of these programs. Some offer only a few conditional scholarships, with rare forfeitures. Others offer a large number, with many forfeitures. Still others lie in between. The market will soon tell us which of these paths enhance student enrollment. Now that prospective students know more about how conditional scholarships work at law schools, will they continue to enroll at schools with high forfeiture rates? Time will tell."
  • Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall), A Better Grading System and Double Standards Around Occupational Licensing:  "Professor Merritt’s critiques follow the standard playbook of law school critics—take something about law schools that is widespread and common out of context, claim that it is somehow unique to law schools when it is neither unique nor unusual, and then demonize it".
  • Jeremy Telman (Valparaiso), The Blogosphere Responds to Our Series on Legal Education:  "I have only a few quick points to make in response to Professor Merritt, whose remarks are largely critical of the position I have taken here."

Legal Education | Permalink


"Yeah, sure it's brutal but compared to what?"

Compared to being honest, and not deliberately trying to screw people over.

The best friends of the scamblogger movement are really the defenders of the scam. They just can't keep their mouths shut, and will eagerly defend each and ever dishonest, nasty trick.

Posted by: Barry | May 7, 2015 7:34:34 AM

Yeah, sure it's brutal but compared to what? It would be nice if the world could give everyone 3 year scholarships but it can't. And is that really what would be best for the world? We already have an oversupply, a big oversupply. Being harsher with the scholarships may seem brutal, but it pushes the decision up and that can be kinder. Think of it as saving two years of a person's life instead of denying two years of scholarship.

Posted by: Katniss Everclear | May 6, 2015 4:45:48 PM

At the third-tier law school I attended, there were no "scholarships" offered to incoming students. There were, however, discounts on tuition and fees awarded to the top 25% on a graduated scale. I got a lot of these, so I was cool with the system.

But my school also washed out a lot of first years by the end of second semester, which put people out of their misery who shouldn't have been there in the first place. It seemed like a fair system.

Posted by: curmudgeoninchief | May 6, 2015 3:56:29 PM

@Cold, I believe the egregious examples of this practice (i.e. GPA requirements) have drastically declined since the ABA required the statistics to be published. The problem is that law schools generally don't publish their grading curves, so a 0L who receives a scholarship conditional on him maintaining, say, a 3.3 GPA has no idea whether that means top 10% of his class or top 50%.

I also find it very difficult to believe that section stacking is not going on at some of the schools that have very high rates of conditional scholarship loss. For example, only 37 of 179 St. Mary's 1Ls (class of 2014) retained their conditional scholarships into their 2L year. Very fishy.

Posted by: Katniss | May 6, 2015 3:00:48 PM

Forced curves aren't the issue, as someone will always be in the bottom third, and there's always a natural curve. But putting everyone in one section? That's cold.

Unrelated, I wonder how a school giving such scholarships can compete, when so many are not.

Posted by: Cold | May 6, 2015 2:06:52 PM

When I went to law school, this information was not available. I had no clue that every student received a scholarship but that over a third of the students were going to lose the scholarship due to a forced curve.

Posted by: Justin | May 6, 2015 10:15:53 AM

Nathan A: "The mandatory curve changes everything."

And the (alleged) clustering of scholarship recipients in the same section.

Posted by: Barry | May 6, 2015 9:54:10 AM


The ABA does not currently require that law schools post their grading structures and curves on their websites. This leaves applicants to schools that do not do so to rely on second-hand or third-hand sources of questionable reliability (like Wikipedia). Would you be in favor of requiring schools to publish their grading structure information as prominently on their websites as they are required to do with their employment reports and 509s?

Posted by: Former Editor | May 6, 2015 5:51:22 AM

"The idea that law students don't understand how the scholarships work is insulting. If you can fill out a law school application and a FAFSA, you can look up a grading distribution."

Yeah. That's essentially what bankers said about sub prime mortgage holders. It couldn't possibly have been that the mortgage lenders were pulling a fast one.

Posted by: Nathan A | May 6, 2015 3:18:06 AM

Do the students find out their final grades and hence, whether or not they get to keep their scholarship, in time to submit their transfer applications? I remember that by the time I found out that I lost my scholarship, it was June - way too late to apply for a transfer. The school has to grade all the finals, and then calculate the curve before you find out whether or not you made it into the top X%.

So, it seems to me that students cannot "transfer to another school and deprive the school that takes away their scholarships of 2 years of tuition."

Posted by: Timing | May 5, 2015 7:43:53 PM

In the Hunger Games, teenagers who lose die.

In law school conditional scholarships, adults who lose get a free year of law school.

No one is "chained" to anything. If students who lose their scholarship don't like it, they can transfer to another school and deprive the school that takes away their scholarships of 2 years of tuition.

Perhaps the lower ranked schools are attracting students whose work ethic is more questionable and who need the added performance incentive, while the top law schools are full of people who are reliably going to be superstars.

The idea that law students don't understand how the scholarships work is insulting. If you can fill out a law school application and a FAFSA, you can look up a grading distribution.

Posted by: Hunger | May 5, 2015 5:15:55 PM

Unsurprisingly, almost 37% of Seton Hall 1Ls with conditional scholarships lost them last year, which places them in the top quartile of law schools in terms of having the most conditional scholarships lost. It seems apropos, as it is so par for the course. Untenured law prof at law school finds massive law school premium after said law school publicly stated it may have to lay off its untenured faculty (and where 8 of 285 grads scored BigLaw last year); writes more papers of a similar vintage after receiving six figure grants from financially interested parties (LSAC, AccessGroup). Moreover, the proffered rational of "attracting and retaining the best students, rewarding motivation and ability seems like a reasonable policy" has failed. Despite lopping more than 50% of its entering class size since 2010 in a vain attempt to keep their stats up, Seton Hall's LSAT splits have still dropped from a 155/159/161 to a 152/156/159.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 5, 2015 1:09:00 PM

God, I can't believe I had any respect for Michael Simkovic before. This clown is actually defending the practice of offering conditional scholarships (at schools with high forfeiture rates)? Absolutely despicable.

- Why don't we see conditional scholarships with high forfeiture rate at the best law schools in the country? Surely, all the reasons Michael Simkovic cites in favor conditional scholarship apply to these schools too. No?

- Why do we only see high forfeitures rates at the worst law schools in the country? Is it so unreasonable to believe that law schools that are scraping the bottom of the LSAT barrel are simply trying to get matriculants into the door and chain them to a higher tuition for years 2 and 3? Is it so unreasonable to be believe the most poorly qualified applicants are also the least savvy when it comes to evaluating conditional scholarships? What percentage of them even know that law schools have a mandatory curves? What percentage know that bottom dweller law schools feature the lowest GPA medians in the land?

- I'm sorry, but you can't compare this to undergraduate scholarships. The mandatory curve changes everything. Small difference in exam writing can lead to huge differences in grades awarded. In UG, I controlled my destiny. It didn't matter if I ended up in a section with geniuses or dunces. It didn't matter if I ended up with a professor whose exams were so poorly written that 90% of the class ended up with a few points of each other.

Posted by: Nathan A. | May 5, 2015 12:13:31 PM

Wait. Someone's defending the conditional scholarship game now? On the basis that undergrad conditional schollys are similar? Oh, boy.....

Posted by: The Most Interesting Breh in the World | May 5, 2015 12:12:36 PM