Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thinning the herd

I know a lot more about the machine which legal education now that I am standing on the far end of process with a J.D. One of the things which really surprised me at the TTTT (fourth tier toliet) I chose to attend was the brutal effects of the grading curve.

My wife went to law school a few years (and a few children) before I did. She went to a lower-ranked state school, but one with a history and a respectable reputation. I, for reasons I can barely now remember nor articulate clearly, went to a for-profit law school. It was in the same state my life was licensed in, but a different city than where we lived. So, a big move for the family, but not as big as it could have been.

I matriculated in 2008 with 174 other students. Three years later, I walked with the 89 who actually completed the program. That means 85 students were lost along the way to failure, drop-out, or transfer. That is a total loss of 48.8%. (I should say now, I am no whiz in math. I may make a mistake or two in my back-of-the-envelope calculations here today.)

My cohort lost some 70 students between 1L and 2L. That number comes from the class rank I was given in May at the end of the first year. There were 174 students on the list. Students who simply disappeared (there were a few) during 1L remained on the list of 174.

There was a 40% reduction in student body at the end of 2L. The total class was now 104.

I find that number alarming. As I understand it, from my wife's experience in school and that of others I have read, a loss of about 10% to what is commonly termed "attrition" can be expected in the first year of law school. Much of that loss is expected during the first semester.

To have forty percent of the folks who began the program vacate their seats is simply unheard of. Well, unheard of until you start reading about the Law School Scam. Some of these folks figured law wasn't for them, some transferred to a different school. But, I believe the majority of them failed out of the program.

Someone asked me once, as I described to them the number of people who failed out of the program, "Why would the school admit people who couldn't handle the work?"

It was a good question. One you would expect of any other graduate program in the country. The short answer is the law schools admit people "who can't handle the work" simply to take the money. Students were never there to "handle the work." They were there as cannon fodder. This mass of under-performers is what pays for the discounted and free tuition offered to the high LSAT / GPA folks. That keeps the all-important USNWR rankings humming along, those lives destroyed through non-dischargeable debt be damned.

The curve forced curve utilized at institutions such as my (proud) alma mater lead to an inevitable deficiency in grade point average. In short, if you give 15% of every class a grade of less than a C, you are going to fail out that same number of people.

There was a loss of an additional 15 students from 2L to 3L. I calculate (poorly) that to be a 14% reduction.

You may ask, who the hell fails out after the 2L? Just over a dozen people, apparently. Here is where it gets really ugly: All those kids have credits for courses they cannot transfer or use toward any other program of study, employment, or career. The debt they incurred for either one third or two thirds of a J.D. cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. It will never go away. And, it will be compounded at around 7% interest. They will be paying off those loans for years. Decades in many cases. I feel bad for those people. Some of them were my friends. One of them I still talk to.

They got screwed.