Forbes: We Have Too Many Law Schools, But This Isn't The Way To Thin The Herd, by George Leef (Pope Center for Higher Education Policy):
It makes no more sense for the government to help a student with a 175 LSAT pay for Harvard than to help a student with a 145 LSAT pay for Charlotte.
On Dec. 19, the U.S. Department of Education announced that as of the end of the 2016, it would no longer allow students to use federal aid money at the Charlotte School of Law (CSL). The reason for this unprecedented move was the decision by the American Bar Association in November to place CSL on probation because of the low passage rate among its students on the most recent administration of the North Carolina bar exam.
Whether CSL will survive is not yet known, although it has announced that it will continue its scheduled spring semester. Whether it should survive is debatable. The question I want to explore is whether the Department’s decision to pull the plug on federal aid is a sensible one.
I have long argued that higher education is a “bubble,” which is to say that enrollments will eventually decline when people realize that the costs often exceed the benefits. There is no better example than law school. ...
Law school enrollments peaked at just short of 38,000 in 2010 and since then have fallen by more than 30%. University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos put his finger on the problem in this New York Times story [more here]: “People are coming to terms with the fact that this decline is a product of long-term structural changes that are not going away. It’s kind of a watershed moment.”
That watershed is having a tremendous impact on many law schools.
The high prestige law schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford hardly notice it, but as you go down the prestige list, schools are increasingly desperate to maintain their revenues. With fewer and fewer sharp students --as indicated by their scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) -- applying, lower-tier schools have largely chosen to accept students who would have been rejected in the past because of their low LSAT scores. ...
CSL has a lot of company in the sinking low-tier law school boat. Many others have similarly kept their enrollments up by accepting students with relatively weak academic profiles.
As law school deans Craig Boise of Syracuse and Andrew Morriss of Texas A&M, writes, “In the face of a nationwide application slump, many law schools have admitted students with ever-lower LSAT scores – of all races and ethnicities – to prop up tuition revenue. They now seek to avoid accountability for the resulting poor bar passage results.”
But only CSL has been hit with the Education Department’s ultimate sanction: the loss of federal student aid. ...
In the past, other law schools have been put on probation for the same apparent weaknesses in admitting and teaching their students. In 2005, Golden Gate Law School and Whittier Law School were put on ABA probation over low bar passage rates, but were given time to improve and got off probation. CSL wants the chance to do the same.
So why was the Department of Education so eager to administer a severe penalty that will disrupt many students and potentially prove fatal to the school?
The answer, I believe, is that the Obama Education Department, which has been on a crusade against for-profit education across the board, saw this as a final opportunity to take down what they consider an unwanted institution. Fresh off their annihilation of ITT Tech and the accrediting agency ACICS, the Department was not about to let CSL get away unscathed. With only month left in power, the administration saw its chance and acted.
As was the case with ITT, the Department focused only on the bad aspects of CSL and ignored the good. Where the Department saw only the bad side of the coin with low admission standards and weak results, others might view the opposite side and see an institution that gives students who probably couldn’t otherwise get into law school a chance to prove themselves. ...
[I]f CSL goes under, many of the students who would have enrolled there will just find another school willing to accept them. Eliminating one law school does nothing to solve the basic problem, which is that the output of law graduates is far in excess of the number of jobs in the legal profession.
Instead of an administrative decree that one (or even dozens) of the schools with low bar passage rates will be denied federal student aid money, the right move would be to stop subsidizing law students entirely. If there was ever a case for using federal aid to encourage people to go to law school (I think not), that case evaporated years ago. It makes no more sense for the government to help a student with a 175 LSAT pay for Harvard than to help a student with a 145 LSAT pay for CSL.
Congress should change the law so that federal student aid money may not be used for law school, perhaps with a three-year phase-out. Schools will then compete as best they can for those students who can arrange to pay for their degrees with money from willing funders. (That would also put pressure on the ABA to relax its rules that drive up the cost of legal education, a serious problem that law dean Lawrence Velvel addresses in this article.)
No doubt there will be attrition among law schools, but far better that it come from market competition rather than bureaucratic diktats.