Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: Are Financially Desperate Law Schools Using a ‘Reverse Robin Hood Scheme’ to Stay Afloat?, by Aaron Taylor (St. Louis; Director, Law School Survey of Student Engagement):
Plummeting law-school enrollments across the country have made seats in entering classes more accessible than at any time in recent memory. That can be both good news and bad news for black and Latino students aspiring to practice law.
As a result of the trend, practically every law school is smaller today than it was in 2010. The fall-2015 entering class was almost 30 percent smaller than the record 2010 class. That decline would have represented the equivalent of about 60 average-size law schools in 2010. Some 39 schools received fewer total applications during the 2015 cycle than the number of admissions offers they made in 2010. Think about that. These are truly trying times. Law-school admissions and financial-aid offices have deployed an array of coping, if not survival, strategies.
The most salient one has been to admit a larger proportion of applicants than in previous years. Since 2010, the admission rate among all law-school applicants has increased from 31 percent to 44 percent. More significantly, the median rate among law schools in 2015 was 54 percent, meaning that applicants at more than half the law schools in the country had better than 50-50 odds of gaining admission. By contrast, the median in 2010 was 35 percent. Twenty-four law schools in 2015 had admission rates of 70 percent or higher, compared with just two in 2010.
Embedded in those trends are a couple of potential bright spots. The proportion of entering black and Latino students was its highest ever in 2015 — 21 percent, compared with 15 percent in 2010. The legal profession is infamous for its lack of racial and ethnic diversity, so any increase in law students from underrepresented groups is cause for optimism.
What’s more, socioeconomic diversity may be increasing as well. In 2015 just under 30 percent of respondents to the Law School Survey of Student Engagement indicated that neither of their parents possessed a bachelor’s degree. This was the highest proportion of such responses since 2013, the first year the question was posed on the survey. Parental education is a common proxy for socioeconomic status; so, again, it appears that the downturn has brought about a broadening of opportunity, if only by necessity.
But the trends, while encouraging, create a heightened imperative for law schools to be ethical in their admissions practices and equitable in allotting financial aid. As admission rates and diversity have increased, the LSAT scores of those admitted have decreased, significantly in some cases. The declines have raised suspicions that, purely to generate revenue, some schools are enrolling students who have no chance of becoming lawyers. An LSAT score is not destiny, so those trends do not much concern me; I am much more troubled by emerging student-debt trends. ...
Today, with higher law-school tuition rates and lower expectations of benefits for graduates, financial-aid policies that foist the highest costs on the poorest students are untenable — and unethical. Opportunity devoid of equity is little more than exploitation. Legal education must do better, and soon.
ABA Journal, Statistics Suggest 'Reverse Robin Hood Scheme' by Law Schools, Prof Says