July 5, 2012

Finally, Some Disclosure by the ABA

                                By Gary Jasonscales of justice.jpg

Colleges--both on the undergrad and graduate levels--typically admit students and encourage them to take on onerous amounts of debt, without first giving those prospective students the actual data about their chances of finding work in that major field afterwards. This is just as true, by the way, for non-profit as it is for for-profit schools.

Nowhere is this unethical lack of transparency more a problem than with law schools. Each year, about 40,000 new law school graduates start looking for work. But while it is rare that a graduate of a medical school cannot find work in the medical field, it is not at all rare for a law school graduate--even from a top-tier institution--to fail to find a job in the legal profession.

This has caused a large number of disgruntled law school grads to pressure the American Bar Association (ABA) to release the data it has regarding the employment of law school grads. Indeed, about a dozen grads have even sued the schools from which they graduated. (Law school graduates suing their law schools: this gives new meaning to the hoary cliché, "Hoist with his own petard"!)

A recent report in the WSJ notes that the ABA has just released the stats, and they are stunning. It turns out that of the entire 2011 class of law school graduates, only 55%--that is, little more than half!--found full-time work as lawyers in the nine months after graduation. (By "long term" the ABA only means the job has a term of not less than one year).

The data is robust: it covers almost all of the ABA-accredited schools (198 out of 201).

The clause "as lawyers" is crucial here. Up till now, the ABA (like most professional organizations) has misrepresented the job prospects for recent grads by counting as "employed" students who had found any kind of work, full- or part-time, whether or not it required law school training.

This is similar to what the American Philosophical Society does in my own field, philosophy. If you get a Ph.D. in philosophy, and only find work as a bellhop, say, you are still listed as employed!

Only a dozen law schools saw 80% or more of their grads get full-time, long-term (FT/LT) work that required a law degree. At the top were University of Virginia (95% of whose grads found FT/LT work in the legal profession), Columbia (91%), NYU (90%), and Harvard (90%).

Bringing up the rear were Western New England University (30%), Thomas Jefferson School of Law (27%), Golden Gate University (22%), the University of the District of Columbia (21%).

At the bottom was Whittier College, whose students pay roughly $39,000 per year. It placed only a risible 17% of its graduates in FT/LT legal jobs. This is in marked contrast to 85% figure the college gave the U.S. News and World Report in 2010 for the magazine's annual ranking of law schools.

This leads me to modify a suggestion I have made elsewhere. Last year, a massive study was released by economists Anthony Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, and Michelle Melton (with the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University) surveying the earnings of college graduates broken down by major. They looked at more than 170 majors in 15 categories (like "Business," "social sciences" and so on). They found that while getting a four-year degree of any sort does indeed pay off (on average) in higher earnings compared to workers who do not have a Bachelor's degree, the variation among majors is huge.

The median annual full-time incomes for the 10 lowest-paying majors were: $29,000 (counseling /psychology); $36,000 (early childhood education); $38,000 (theology/religious occupations); $38,000 (human services); $39,000 (social work); $40,000 (drama/theater arts); $40,000 (studio art); $40,000 (communications disorder sciences); $40,000 (visual/performing arts); and $40,000 (health/medical prep programs). 

The median incomes for the ten highest-paying majors were: $80,000 (mining/mineral engineering); $80,000 (metallurgical engineering); $80,000 (mechanical engineering); $82,000 (marine engineering); $85,000 (electrical engineering); $86,000 (chemical engineering); $87,000 (aerospace engineering); $98,000 (math/computer sciences); $105,000 (pharmaceutical sciences); and petroleum engineering ($120,000).

Given this wide disparity, I argued that before a freshman could declare a major, he or she should be required to attend a seminar reviewing the majors available at the college and the figures on the average median earnings for each--and then acknowledge in writing that he or she has understood the data and the analysis.

I would generalize that suggestion to professional schools, especially law schools. They should make available to all applicants the data compiled by independent sources on the percentage of grads at that school who have found work, and furthermore, their median incomes. Signing an acknowledgement that he or she has been given and have read the data should then be a required part of the application process.

The schools may not like this, but is it not the ethical thing to do?

Gary Jason is a philosophy instructor at California State, Fullerton. He is also a senior editor of Liberty, and author of Dangerous Thoughts.

Comments (1)


Plus this would assist schools in fending off lawsuits from disappointed graduates...

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