Higher Education Chronicle: Law schools shouldn’t blame ‘US News’ for their own moral decisionsBy Peter B. (“Bo”) Rutledge (Dean, Georgia):

A fierce debate over the continued involvement of law schools in US News it has become a microcosm for broader debates on higher education reform during a period of tremendous disruption.

In that debate, a recent op-ed by Deans Heather Gerken and Tamara Lawson argues that US News creates “perverse incentives” and has “pernicious effects” that force schools to make bad “policy choices” (“Law schools should abandon merit-based scholarships,” The review of the chronicle, April 13th). Those options include favoring merit-based financial aid over need-based. They argue that “we have reached a tipping point in higher education” and urge all law schools to embrace needs-based aid.

I agree with the authors’ effort to support low-income students. However, like a flashlight shining on a vast forest, the plot ignores the terrain. It blames the wrong actor, provides an incomplete account, and evades the importance of moral courage in making difficult decisions. …

blaming US News it only distracts the public from holding law schools accountable for their own moral choices, including their choice to raise the cost of attendance, worsen the student debt crisis, and become less affordable for low-income students. …

Overrated law schools are now in a bind. Tuition increases have not only outpaced inflation, but have also outpaced the growth rates of both household income and starting salaries of law graduates. Confronted by these economic forces, most companies would lower their prices and cut costs.

The authors’ proposal represents a type of price cutting, but it avoids any acceptance of responsibility for decades of reckless price increases or any promise to control costs. The American Bar Association has recognized the student debt crisis in legal education and can help address that crisis by requiring all law schools to disclose various measures of student debt in their annual 509 reports (as well as currently requiring disclosure of various measures of student debt). aid).

All law school deans—in fact, all academic leaders—need moral courage to make tough decisions about where to prioritize the next marginal investment. Jobs? Bar passage? student support? Buildings? Wages? Tuition discounts? Scholarships? …

Right now, protesting schools are free from US News‘ alleged strangulation. If those schools want to help low-income students, then do it: cut costs and admit low-income students. …

[T]Counting costs, debts and student results is a moral imperative for all academic leaders, no matter what a magazine says.


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