Friday, October 15, 2010

Loan Fraud by any other name

I came across a great quote while reading an op-ed at AOL News (which was originally posted by Hardknocks at the But I Did Everything Right Blog). It was a quote from Brian Leiter, a law school prof and critic of the U.S. News rankings:

This [employment]data is entirely self-reported by schools, and should be treated as essentially fiction: it may have elements of truth, but basically it's a work of the imagination. Schools report it, and U.S. News has no way of checking. In addition, we know nothing about the nature of the employment-it could simply be as a research assistant, which is what Northwestern did a few years ago for its unemployed grads.

Since LSAT test takers rely on this kind of data to decide where to attend law school or whether to attend at all, could negligently inaccurate or outright fraudulent data be a form of indirect student loan fraud perpetuated by the law schools (and implicitly sanctioned by the ABA) against private lenders and the federal government?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

2 million attorneys? Not as far-fetched as it might seem.

In a recent post I determined the year when our nation would surpass having 2 million attorneys and concluded that it would happen in 2035.  I used a year-to-year rate of increase in the amount of new JD production based on the average rate of increase over the past ten years and assumed that new graduates would work for 40 years on average.  Privately, I had thought that the increasingly large class sizes were a little far-fetched.

However, as evidence that this seemingly nonsensical scenario may not be as implausible as it may seem, consider the fact that several colleges are planning to open new law schools in the near future (and to presumably seek ABA accreditation).  Some of the new or planned schools are: Concordia University School of Law, Louisiana College School of Law, University of North Texas College of Law, a law school at Binghamton University, Southern New England School of Law (U. Mass), and Belmont University College of Law.

As long as students can continue to easily obtain loans and law schools continue to serve as university profit centers, more and more two-bit colleges will want to open their own law schools. Two million lawyers, here we come!

EDIT. I've also come across talk about the a school in Delaware's wanting to open up a new law school. Same for the Kaplan test prep company. Also, now the ABA is contemplating accrediting foreign law schools! You may soon also be able to add schools in Peking and one in India to the list.

EDIT May 16, 2011.  I've just read a post reporting that Indiana Tech is planning to open a new law school.  Since the time of the last edit, I've come across several similar reports about other new law schools.

EDIT July 17, 2011. According to this profound article in the New York Times about law school economics, the law schools pumped out 49,700 new JDs (either this year in 2011 or 2010; I can't tell which specific year was referred to). I had previously thought that the new JD production rate was about 45,000/year. That amount of increase in the rate of JD production makes the prospect of having 2 million attorneys increasingly realistic.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Professor X's Tale of Teaching at a College of Last Resort

The June 2008 edition of The Atlantic published an excellent article that helps illustrate the inanity of encouraging everyone to go to college.  Written by an anonymous adjunct professor of English at a community college, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower is an entertaining read.  The caption under the title reads: The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth.  An instructor at a 'college of last resort' explains why.

In the article Professor X describes what it is like teaching basic essay writing skills to people who probably aren't qualified for community college (and perhaps not even for high school).  The students are attending because their jobs require them to attend (apparently you need to go to college to become a police officer) or because they are hoping to improve upon their poverty-wage jobs by obtaining a college education.  One of his students, "Ms. L", is woefully unprepared and perhaps even barely literate.  Ms. L is proud of herself for having written a college paper, but Professor X feels obliged to fail her with an F.  (What if she were a plant from a newspaper and would go on to publish an article about how an incoherent, pathetically short mess of a paper garnered a C grade at the local community college?)

This narrative is profound because it is one of the few published articles that dares to question the dogma that everyone should go to college and that college will magically cure all of our social ills when in reality it merely creates new ones.  It also provides a memorable demonstration of just how ridiculous that notion is.  Here are a few excerpts:

The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty.
Sending everyone under the sun to college is a noble initiative.  Academia is all for it, naturally.  Industry is all for it; some companies even help with tuition costs.  Government is all for it; the truly needy have lots of opportunities for financial aid.  The media applauds it—try to imagine someone speaking out against the idea.  To oppose such a scheme of inclusion would be positively churlish.
America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track.  We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options.  Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. 
There is a sense that the American workforce needs to be more professional at every level.  Many jobs that never before required college now call for at least some post-secondary course work.  School custodians, those who run the boilers and spread synthetic sawdust on vomit, may not need college—but the people who supervise them, who decide which brand of synthetic sawdust to procure, probably do.  There is a sense that our bank tellers should be college educated, and so should our medical-billing techs, and our child-welfare officers, and our sheriffs and federal marshals.  We want the police officer who stops the car with the broken taillight to have a nodding acquaintance with great literature. 
Sadly, Professor X's narrative will probably fall on deaf ears.  For-profit colleges are springing up like dandelions and advertising aggressively, eager to devour federal student loan money and funnel it to Wall Street.  It's easier for our politicians to sell a panicky populace on the notion that higher education will magically solve our economic and social problems than it is for them to address foreign outsourcing, the displacement of Americans from jobs by foreigners on H-1B and L-1 visas, and mass immigration.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Does our nation's culture of promoting higher education fill a role akin to that of religion?

As I was typing up my last post, which was started as a submission to JD Underground, I had a thought that had not previously occurred to me.

Our nation's Education Arms Race and culture of promoting higher education essentially constitutes a de facto form of class warfare and is an essential tool for social control.  The rich (and our politicians and other powerful parties) have an interest in maintaining a widespread belief that people can work their way up and use education to lift themselves to a better economic state.  (This way, people will accept gross income inequality because they will think that it's fair and the result of meritocracy and justice.)  If someone goes to college and fails to attain a better life, our culture's belief in meritocracy leads people to believe that it is their fault.  You didn't study hard enough or network hard enough, etc.  If you didn't go to college then you are supposed to think that the reason why you are earning poverty slave wages is because you didn't go to college.

The promise of a better life through higher education almost fills the same role that religion did centuries ago. It helps maintain social control over the masses.  It assuages feelings of anger and resentment at the upper classes by replacing them with feelings of hope for those who haven't pursued higher education and feelings of guilt for those who have but couldn't find a job commensurate with their investments in higher education.

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