Showing posts with label Joshua Wright. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joshua Wright. Show all posts

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors: Why the heck not?

The New York Times editorialized yesterday that tenants should have access to free attorneys when their landlords start eviction proceedings against them. As the Times put it, "There are few legal fights more lopsided than landlords suing to evict their lower-income tenants." The Times commended New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his plan to provide municipal funding to hire legal help for the city's low-income tenants.

I agree with the Times; providing tenants with legal assistance when they face eviction would be a good thing. But let's expand that idea a bit. Why not provide free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors?

After all, almost all college-loan borrowers who try to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy are too poor to hire lawyers to steer them through the bankruptcy process. And when they go to bankruptcy court, they almost always face a platoon of lawyers who argue that their student loans should not be discharged.

The debtor either faces government lawyers dispatched by the U.S. Department of Education or private attorneys hired by Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) or  another federally authorized debt collector. For example, in the Acosta-Conniff bankruptcy case, now on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, ECMC has six attorney to defend its interests. Six!

Currently, this country has thousands of unemployed lawyers.  As Joshua Wright reported recently, American law schools are turning out two attorneys for every available job. Why not put some of these unemployed law graduates to work defending student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts?

I will tell you why not. The Department of Education does not want anyone to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. In a 2013 case, DOE fought bankruptcy discharge for a quadriplegic who was working full time but who did not make enough money to pay his live-in caregiver and still pay off his student loans.

Lynne Mahaffie, a DOE Under Secretary, issued a letter in July 2015 outlining when DOE would not oppose bankruptcy discharge for distressed student-loan debtors; but that letter was misleading. In fact, DOE and its debt collectors fight almost every debtor who seeks to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. If DOE is going to oppose bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic, then you know it is going to oppose relief for almost everyone.

DOE, Congress, and the higher education industry know that the whole corrupt, mismanaged, and wildly overpriced system of higher education in the United States would collapse without the student loan program; and the student loan program's continued existence depends on the fiction that students are paying back their loans.

In fact, they are not paying back their loans; but the government has largely managed to hide that fact from the public. If insolvent student-loan debtors were able to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy, millions of people would be entitled to relief. And if that were to occur, then it would be apparent to everyone that the federal student-loan program is itself bankrupt; and the program would collapse.

And Congress, DOE, and the higher education industry want to postpone the day of reckoning for as long as possible.


Editorial. A Right to a Lawyer to Save Your Home. New York Times, September 23, 2016, p. A26. Accessible at

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015. Accessible at

Myhre v U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bakr. W.D. Wis. 2013). Accessible at

Joshua Wright. The Oversaturated Job Market for Lawyers Continues, and On-The-Side Legal Work Grows., January 10, 2014.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Immorality of American Graduate Education: A Look At the Fields of Law and Education

When commentators write about the student-loan crisis, they often focus on people who attended for-profit institutions. And indeed, almost half of the students who borrowed to attend a for-profit college default on their loans within five years.

Law schools: Declining admission standards and too many graduates for the job market

But people who borrow to get graduate degrees from respectable institutions are also suffering in huge numbers. Let's start with the field of law, where the job market for full-time attorney jobs has collapsed. According to an article by Joshua Wright, there are more than two attorneys for every law job (based on 2012 data).

Many potential law students have figured this out, and law school enrollments have plummeted.  First-year enrollment in American law schools in the fall of last year was 30 percent lower than 2010. As Aaron N. Taylor pointed out in a Chronicle of Higher Education essay, this decline represents the equivalent of about 60 law schools in 2010.

How have law schools responded to this downturn? In order to keep classroom seats filled, many have been admitting a larger and larger percentage of applicants. As Taylor explained it, the median admission 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." According to Taylor, 24 law schools had admission rates of 70 percent or higher! In other words, some American law schools are drifting pretty darn close to having open admission policies.

And as a recent report from Law School Transparency documents, admissions standards are falling at law schools with a number of schools admitting students with LSAT scores so low that they are at extreme risk of failing the bar exam.

All this is happening as law-school tuition has skyrocketed. The average JD graduate enters an anemic job market with $140,000 in debt.

Obviously, law schools should cut their tuition prices drastically and some law schools should be closed. For example, Southern University Law School in Baton Rouge and Texas Southern University's law school have shockingly low admission standards and their graduates have very low pass rates when they take their bar exams. Why do these schools remain open?

Graduate programs in Education: Declining demand and low quality

But let's not just pick on law programs. Let's look at graduate programs in Education, which is my own field.

The National Science Foundation reported recently that that doctorates in education declined 27 percent in just 5 years: from 6,528 to 4,793. Furthermore, in 2014, less than two thirds of Education doctoral graduates had jobs in their fields or postdoc commitments. Perhaps most disturbing, doctoral graduates in Education had the highest mean debt loads among graduates in all doctoral fields. According to NSF, their mean cumulative debt was $36,260 in 2014, and 23 percent had debt loads of $70,000 or more.

We have far too many colleges of education--around 1200. The National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration recommended closing three-fifths of the nation's graduate programs in Educational Leadership (the programs that train school principals and superintendents), and it is surely right. Arthur Levine, who published a much discussed report on graduate programs in Educational Leadership, found that most of them were competing in a "race to the bottom," with many Educational Leadership programs having low admission standards, low graduation standards, weak faculty, weak research production, and "irrelevant" curricula.

But have universities improved the quality of graduate programs in Education? Have they closed weak programs or redundant schools of education? By and large, they have not. In Louisiana, where I teach, every four-year public institution has a college or school of education, far more than the state needs. And--based on my own experience working in colleges of education at four public universities, admissions standards are going down for doctoral programs. At the University of Houston, where I worked a few years ago, the Educational Leadership program had several doctoral student with GRE scores in the bottom 10th percentile.


The student-loan crisis has many dimensions, and millions of victims. Students who attended for-profit colleges are among the casualties, but many people who obtained graduate degrees at reputedly respectable institutions are also among the wounded.  Thousands of law school graduates and people with graduate degrees in Education have accumulated massive levels of debt for educational experiences that didn't lead to well-paying jobs.

Do we need to clean up the for-profit college industry? Yes we do. But we also need to close a lot of law schools and graduate programs in Education.


Arthur Levine. Educating School Leaders. Education Schools Project, 2005. Accessible at

Aaron N. Taylor. Are Financially Desperate Law Schools Using a 'Reverse' Robin Hood Scheme' to Stay Afloat? Chronicle of Higher Education, April 20, 2016. Accessible at

Joshua Wright. The Oversaturated Job Market for Lawyers Continues, and On-The-Side Legal Work Grows., January 10, 2014.

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2014 Doctorate Recipients From U.S. Universities. National Science Foundation, December 2015. Accessible at