Some law schools are voluntarily cutting back on the number of students they admit as they try to be more focused on getting jobs for the kids they do admit. Other schools aren’t making the cuts voluntarily, but want everybody to think that smaller class sizes are a choice and not a reality of fewer law school applicants.
And then there’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School. They’re looking at a precipitous drop in their number of applications and admitted students, but they can’t pretend like they’ve voluntarily decided to stop admitting so many students. Instead, Cooley’s dean acknowledged that other schools are accepting less qualified applicants, which has caused downward pressure on Cooley’s numbers.
Hey, that’s a better story for Cooley than the alternative: that prospective law students have gotten wise to Cooley’s game and are staying away….
Let’s start with the raw numbers about Cooley’s entering class because the statistics are pretty stark. From the Lansing State Journal:
Last year’s entering class at Thomas M. Cooley Law School was down by more than 400 students from the class before, a drop of almost 27 percent.
The school’s president, Don LeDuc, said he expects this year’s class to be smaller yet, down by another 15 percent or so.
That is dramatic.
It could be an indication that students are finally starting to pay attention to getting jobs after graduation, but Cooley Dean Don LeDuc doesn’t see it that way:
Cooley has felt the downturn more sharply than most. It is one of the least-selective law schools in the country, and its recent challenges filling up its classes have been exacerbated, LeDuc said, by the fact that other schools are dipping down a bit lower into their applicant pools.
“People are getting offers at schools they wouldn’t necessarily have had,” he said, “meaning if Cooley was their backup, they don’t need us as their backup.”
In response to the drop in applications, Cooley Law is raising tuition by eight percent. I think of this as an idiot tax: if Cooley is your “backup” law school and you can’t get into anything better, you have to pay the tax.
But it could be that prospective students are finally starting to pay attention to what happens to Cooley graduates:
The only one of the five law schools in Michigan [to have above average employment placement] was the University of Michigan Law School, where 75 percent of the graduates found long-term, full-time legal jobs and 88 percent had long-term, full-time professional work. The numbers at Michigan State University College of Law were 44 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
At Cooley, they were lower. Just 375 of the 999 people who graduated from Cooley in 2011 had long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage. Of those, 76 had gone into solo practice, a decidedly uncertain undertaking for someone fresh out of law school. Just under half of that year’s graduates had found any sort of long-term, full-time professional employment.
If those numbers aren’t bad enough, prospective law students should be aware that the Cooley administration doesn’t seem to think that it’s the school’s problem that so few people end up in good jobs:
“You think education for education,” [LeDuc] said. “The job is the byproduct. The schools don’t loan the money. They don’t do the job interviews. What they provide is legal education.”
Read that quote again. LeDuc seems to be under the impression that paying $37K per year for three years of law school is not unlike obtaining a library card or something. He seems to think that people go to law school for education’s sake.
Of course, the vast majority of people go to law school so they can get a job, not just an education. That’s why they pay all that money and invest all of that time, for a JOB, not for the sake of learning how to spot tort violations in a fact pattern. The fact that the dean thinks becoming gainfully employed is just a “byproduct” seems to sum up the the whole Cooley enterprise.
But, it doesn’t sound like even this latest drop in applications has LeDuc particularly worried. As he said, it’s not like Cooley is loaning the money. They’re not on the hook if these students can’t get jobs and default on their loans. Every student Cooley admits turns into a check, either from the student or the federal government.
The “byproduct” of that system is something that taxpayers can worry about.
Cooley Law enrollment falls amid skepticism [Lansing State Journal]