Advice to the ABA

May 13th, 2013 / By

Like many other lawyers and educators, I have submitted comments to the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. As I note in my letter, the challenges facing legal education will require responses from many quarters. I tried to focus my comments on issues where the ABA could play an effective role. My six recommendations are:

1. Limit the availability of federal loans by (a) advocating for Congress or the Department of Education to modify loan rules, and (b) adopting accreditation standards that would tie accreditation to graduates’ ability to repay loans.

2. Adopt an accreditation standard that would require law schools to divide scholarship dollars equally between need-based and merit-based awards.

3. Encourage “flex-time” degree programs that would allow students to integrate work and academic study in a greater variety of ways.

4. Allow law schools to apply some pre-matriculation credits toward the JD. This would change current Interpretation 304-5 in the accreditation standards.

5. Adopt proposed Alternative C to Accreditation Standard 405, which would allow schools to protect academic freedom through mechanisms other than tenure, and would require schools to afford the same job security and status to all full-time professors.

6. Repeal Rule 5.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers from forming partnerships with non-lawyers or obtaining outside investment in their practices.

I’ll offer more detail on each of these proposals in separate posts. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in my letter to the Task Force, it appears here.

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Colleges Cut Tuition Costs

May 9th, 2013 / By

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, four-year colleges have been increasing their tuition discounts. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the average discount rate rose to 45% for this year’s freshmen. On average, therefore, colleges collected a little less than half of their list-price tuition from first-year students. That steep discount caps seven straight years of deepening discounts.

This news provokes several thoughts. First, colleges are caught on the same tuition-scholarship merry-go-round that law schools ride. We raise tuition, then raise scholarships–although never quite as much as tuition. Students pay more, and everyone is confused about what tuition really is.

Second, this tuition-scholarship shuffle transfers money from some students to others. Colleges offer more need-based grants than law schools do, but they provide plenty of “merit” scholarships. Colleges purchase high SAT scores, just as law schools buy impressive LSATs. Some day, I hope, educators will look back at this era and shake their heads at the sordidness of buying scores from paper-and-pencil tests that are taught in high-priced prep courses.

Third, the steady rise in tuition discounts suggests that parents and students are reaching their limit. They either can’t pay any more for higher education or they won’t. Colleges are moderating tuition increases while offering more scholarships.

That leads to a final question: What does this portend for law schools? When these freshmen apply to law school, will they be willing to pay higher tuition because colleges gave them a bigger break? Will their families have some cash in reserve to help fund law school? Or will these price-sensitive students demand even more discounts from law schools?

Responses may differ. Some students may be willing to pay more, while others remain stingy. A lot can happen in both the economy and higher education before these freshmen apply to law school. My guess, however, is that the steadily increasing discount rate for college tuition means that students are more concerned about the value of their higher education. That means that they may examine law school more closely as an investment and that, if they decide to apply, they will expect more discounts.

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