LST reports that law-school enrollments have declined 28 percent since 2010, which has caused a budget crunch for law schools because they are heavily dependent on tuition money to keep their doors open.
As a result of declining law-school applications, many law schools have lowered their admission standards to attract more students, particularly students with low LSAT scores. As LST points out, LSAT scores are the best predictor of whether law graduates will pass or fail their bar exams. Thus, declining LSAT scores for American law students promises to bring a higher failure rate on bar exams. Obviously, a student who borrows a significant amount of money to attend law school and then fails the bar exam will experience a financial catastrophe because that student cannot practice law.
LST broke down LSAT scores into categories that measure the risk of failing the bar exam, and it identified law schools that are admitting a significant number of students with LSAT scores so low that they run a high risk of failing the bar exam after graduating from law school.
The picture LST paints is not pretty.
In 2010, 30 law schools admitted at least 25 percent of their students with LSAT scores so low that those students ran a significant risk of failing the bar. By 2014, the number of law schools admitting high-risk students had more than doubled--from 30 to 74 in just four years.
In 2014, 37 schools "admitted classes consisting of at least 50% at risk students . . ." In other words, based on their LSAT scores, at least 50 percent of the students at 37 law schools were at risk of failing the bar exam once they graduated.
LST went on to report:
Every for-profit law school enrolled classes consisting of at least 50% at-risk students. The Infilaw-owned schools [Florida Coastal School of Law, Charlotte School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School] enrolled classes consisting of between 75% and 100% at-risk students. For-profit school graduates have lower bar passage rates, worse job rates, and more debt. For-profit schools also graduate a higher percentage of students with debt and receive more total federal student loans on a per-school basis than public or private schools.(emphasis added)
"Based on available salary data from serious risk schools," LST observed, "graduates from these programs cannot service their debts without generous federal hardship programs." Moreover, "[e]ven top earners at the more affordable schools face economic difficulty; the rest range from economic difficulty to catastrophe."
What, in a nutshell, is the LST report telling us? Less prestigious law schools, including the for-profit law schools, have lowered their admission standards in an effort to counteract declining enrollments. On average, tuition at many of these schools is almost as high as the tuition rates at more elite schools, so students who attend many of these lower-tier law schools are borrowing almost as much money as students who take out loans to attend a Harvard or a Stanford.
I have three comments to make about LST's report:
1) Given the imploding demand for new attorneys, it is utter madness for the government to continue propping up for-profit law schools with federal student-loan money. Many people attending these schools will face a grim financial future when they graduate: poor job prospects and crushing student debts.
2) Based on a review of LST's report, it's not only the for-profits who are admitting students with low LSAT scores. A number or public universities have low admissions standards. According to LST's data, one out of four students at several public law schools have LSAT scores so low that they are at "extreme risk" of failing the bar exam. These schools include: Southern University, Texas Southern University, Ohio Northern University, University of North Dakota and the University of South Dakota.
3) Law schools that are admitting students with low LSAT scores are not only doing their students a disservice. They are also lowering the overall quality of the nation's legal community. Many of these students will fail the bar, but many marginal ones will pass it. This country doesn't need an oversupply of minimally qualified attorneys.
In short, this state of affairs cannot continue. Law schools with low admission standards need to be closed, and the students who accumulated massive amounts of debt to attend them should have their loans forgiven.
Law School Transparency. 2015 State of Legal Education. Accessible at: http://lawschooltransparency.com/reform/projects/investigations/2015/