Blog: In Hard Times, Lured into What School?

Take a moment to put yourself in a student's shoes. You are at a crossroads in life and desire something more. You know you'll have to work hard for your future and stretch yourself to accomplish your dreams and so you do what it takes. The economy and the pressures of your social image, family expectations and the promise of a career path point you to continuing education. The words from admissions departments, former graduates, publications, marketing, etc. all draw you to accept huge loans that you can't imagine ever paying off in your current life. But your current life is about to change, isn't it?

So you accept federal money, go into debt, and begin to toil for months and months toward graduation and a career with almost no ceiling. Your diverse classmates all boil with anticipation of that first great job in their new career, the reward for such hard work and financial risk.

Then you graduate, family and friends are so proud of what you’ve accomplished. There's no job yet, but you sail by for a while on the promise that the future you envisioned is coming any day now. Any week now. Any time now …

Your bills are piled high, you are defaulting on loans, your credit is shot, and you are working 50 hours a week just to survive. You’ve had to take a job paying much below what you felt you were promised, and you don’t think you’ll ever get out of the hole. Now you are bitter, angry, and more than anything else, exhausted. At this moment, I’m sure you’ll think to yourself, “I wish I would have never gone to law school!”

Wait … what? Did you just read the words, “law school”? That can’t be right. Go back and read it again. The whole thing if you need to. Law school.

But this is just a hypothetical right? An allegory? Perhaps you should ask someone at a major law school in this country. Let’s pick an institution randomly in order to emulate our Department of Education’s formula for “Gainful Employment”. Ok. I picked one out of a hat. Ask my co-workers if you don’t believe me. And the winner is …

Seattle University School of Law!

If that university sounds familiar, it is because a professor from this institution, Rafael I. Pardo, was quoted  in the March 13 New York Times piece, “In Hard Times, Lured Into Trade School and Debt” as their “expert on educational finance.” Isn’t that just a coincidence?

According to the 2010 U.S. News and World Report, the Seattle University School of Law ranks about 77th overall compared to other law schools. It has a yearly tuition of over $35,000, about $50,000 if you include other costs such as books, board, etc. For three years of law school, that’s $150,000. But the most important statistic (here is the definition of that word if you need it, NYT and DoE – trying to be helpful) is this: The rate of graduates employed at graduation was 67.9%. That means almost one-third of students, many of which are sitting on over 100k in loans, not to mention the tens-of-thousands in potential undergraduate loans, are potentially in the position described above. And it’s not just this one law school. Whether at Harvard, or anywhere else (see links to articles below), finding that promised job earning what is needed to pay back those weighty loans is becoming more and more difficult every day.

(Job offers dwindle for MBA and law school grads; Recent graduates of WFU Law School find work in legal-assistance program; Economy causing more law school grads to take public sector jobs; North American law firms outsourcing legal work)

So what does professor Pardo have to say about the changing economy and education? “If these programs keep growing, you’re going to wind up with more and more students who are graduating and can’t find meaningful employment. They can’t generate income needed to pay back their loans, and they’re going to end up in financial distress.”

But according to the New York Times, this isn’t a statement about the growing number of law graduates that can’t find the employment they felt they were promised, or even the 32% of students at Professor Pardo’s own school that aren’t able to find employment and begin paying back those loans at graduation. It’s about the career college sector – amazing given the outrageous level of oversight and regulation that exists, but that the Seattle University School of Law and thousands upon thousands of other institutions don’t have to follow. If almost any career college had the placement rates of the Seattle University School of Law, they  would be approaching major sanctions and loss of their essential Title IV status.

In fairness to the Seattle University School of Law, their numbers here aren’t the exception, they are the rule. And in fairness to professor Pardo, the Times did not clarify if his comment was only applicable to the career college sector, or what his opinion on the placement rates of his and similar universities would be. We welcome any comment from them on that issue.

It would be nice if the Times would address this topic in an honest and fair way, considering the entire educational paradigm instead of the minutia that can be twisted to make a single point,. But I suppose we can’t expect that fairness from an editorial piece. Wait … that wasn’t an editorial? Really?  I mean, sure, it says, “article” on my computer screen, and in the ink printed on this recycled paper, but I remember the definition from my ninth grade journalism class and this is definitely an op-ed. Perhaps it was just a small printing error or something. I mean, we have no reason to distrust the objectivity of this publication right? I bet faster than you can say “Howell Raines” they will fix this little slip up. No? Well, maybe the definitions of editorial and article are changing then.

Fair objectivity isn’t what it used to be. I’m looking at you, Department of Education.

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