February 28, 2019
With more than three dozen law schools now accepting the GRE for admissions purposes, this question is no doubt on the agenda at many schools across the nation. Nearly four times as many students take the GRE each year as take the LSAT. Are these two pools of students comparable in terms of academic achievements and intellectual ability? I would guess the GRE group is, on average, stronger. Remember the pool of GRE-takers includes those aspiring to PhDs in philosophy, economics, physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, linguistics, and mathematics. The GRE includes both verbal and quantitative sections; one suspects that the average LSAT-taker is not going to do as well on the latter as the average student aspiring for a PhD in any STEM field. From what little I know, I would guess the GRE verbal section is the better predictor of law school performance than the quantitative section, and that a 98th percentile GRE verbal score is better than a 98th percentile LSAT score.
But I may be completely wrong!
As it happens, the Educational Testing Service has offered a conversion tool here. The tool seems to confirm that ETS views the GRE as a bit harder than the LSAT (and it clearly gives more weight to the verbal score than the quantitative, although that matters too). I'd be glad to hear from readers with more knowledge about these questions; please e-mail me, and I'll do a follow-up post in a week or two depending on what I learn.
February 26, 2019
The latest plan to make federal student loans less appealing: cut repayment period from 25 years to 10, draft employers as debt collectors (Michael Simkovic)
Private student lenders have been trying for at least a decade to stifle competition from public student lending programs. Their advocates have come up with a myriad of reasons to raise the price of federal loan programs, reduce their availability, and make terms less generous, even though these public loan programs are profitable for the federal government and provide massive positive externalities to the economy.
The latest salvo in this decades long struggle comes from Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn).
Senator Alexander proposes to force federal student loan borrowers to repay their loans in 10 years instead of the 25 years that are currently permitted under extended and graduated repayment plans. Senator Alexander refers to this as "simplification."
People typically finish their educations in their 20s. Highly educated people live longer than their less educated peers, are healthier, and usually keep working until their late 60s or early 70s.
Professional degree holder's earnings do not peak until their 50s. It makes little sense to excessively burden them with loan payments in their early years when earnings are typically lower and many other expenses may be higher.
The benefits of education, in the form of higher wages per hour and increased work hours, are typically spread over decades. Financing degrees so that the positive cash flows match the negative cash flows (i.e., loan repayments are made over the course of a career to correspond to earnings premiums) enables students to invest in higher quality degrees with a higher total payoff over the long run, but that might take longer to produce high earnings. Consider the case of medical students who will work low paid residencies, internships and fellowships prior to securing highly paid work, or law students who will work clerkships prior to pursuing more lucrative work.
In the name of "accountability", Alexander would deny institutions access to federal student loans if their students take too long to repay their loans. This risks encouraging short termism and underinvestment in education, selective admission of wealthy students with less need to borrow, and could pressure institutions to steer some students toward private loans.
The federal government should be expanding funding for education until the marginal benefit--including not only student loan repayments, but higher wages, higher employment rates, higher tax revenues, and more innovation and economic growth--drops to equal marginal cost. We are far from that point, and searching for ways to reduce public funding for education is likely to be counter-productive.
Alexander would also garnish borrowers wages automatically, making their employers responsible for deducting student loan payments from their paychecks.
Usually garnishment is only used for debtors in default after other collection efforts fail.
I teach bankruptcy and creditors rights. Employers do not like dealing with wage garnishment, so much so that federal and state laws are needed to prevent employers from summarily terminating employees whose wages have been garnished (there are exceptions permitting termination if the number of garnishments reaches a certain threshold, sometimes only two).
There's a serious risk that Alexander's wage garnishment proposal would burden employers enough that they would be more reluctant to hire workers with federal student loans than comparably well-educated and well qualified workers who are debt free or have private loans.
Alexander's proposal is supported by a conservative think tank, Third Way, which has close ties to private lenders. (Like New America, Third Way describes itself as center left, but those familiar with its policy advocacy and funding sources maintain that it is in fact conservative).
Senator Alexander has previously worked to advance the interests of private student lenders over those of students, opposing a bill that would have enabled borrowers to refinance private student loans by borrowing from less expensive public lending programs.
February 23, 2019
A fascinating, albeit intemperate and sensationalist, perspective on the history of conservative activism on college campuses is available here.
The essay discusses strategies such as top-down national campaigns funded by wealthy donors, programming crafted by national organizations staffed by well compensated and experienced political operatives with ties to the Republican party, and executed on particular campuses by (sometimes less than fully autonomous) local campus chapters with substantial assistance from national organizations. Many of the campaigns featured subtle exploitation of racial anxieties, appeals to anger, and intentional efforts to upset political opponents so that their reactions can be recorded and used for propaganda purposes.
As previously reported, and confirmed by numerous press stories and leaked documents (see e.g., here and here) many of these strategies continue to be used on campus by many of the same or similar conservative organizations today.
Unfortunately, the essay counter-productively uses militant language to encourage students to "combat" these "threats." Physical violence is both morally wrong and strategically ineffective: it only affirms conservative activists' narrative of victimization. Indeed, a conservative activist group recently scored a major public relations victory after a campus recruiter from a national organization tabling at Berkeley was struck in the face by a passerby who may have been offended by the organization's racially charged slogans about "hate crime hoaxes." This particular conservative group has been accused by rival conservatives of allegedly condoning racism and sexual assault, and criticized for maintaining a McCarthyist Professor Watchlist.
January 24, 2019
January 07, 2019
...by creating a competitor hiring conference (the Blog Emperor reprints the self-serving announcement in its entirety, although at least Professor Weaver dropped some of his earlier false claims about its purpose). I'm not aware of any other academic field where there are competing hiring conferences. Their absence is easy to explain: it's costly enough--in time and money--to seek an academic job, without having to think about going to two different conferences. In other fields, the main professional organization runs a hiring conference, which simplifes things for job seekers. I will be advising all Chicago candidates to ignore Professor Weaver's vanity project, and I would urge all hiring schools, including those that are part of SEALS, to boycott this process. More importantly, I urge all the placement directors at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, Stanford, NYU, Virginia, Berkeley, Penn etc. to steer their candidates AWAY from this destructive undertaking. One hiring conference is enough.
(I asked Professor Weaver how many candidates actually participated in the SEALS workshop for prospective law teachers. The answer: 18.)
ADDENDUM: Professor Weaver is correct that AALS rips off both schools and candidates for participation in its process, so perhaps the AALS will seize this opportunity to reduce costs. And if the AALS does, then Professor Weaver will have accomplished something worthwhile.
ANOTHER: Brad Areheart (Tennessee), whom I had the privilege of working with when I taught at the University of Texas, writes: "As you may or may not know for the last several years I have run the Prospective Law Teachers Workshop at SEALS. It’s a pretty streamlined enterprise (mock job talks, mock interviews, and CV review sessions + a panel and networking with others on the market) but I think it’s a nice enough service for future law profs. We get dozens of applications each year and limit our workshop to just 12 people. We also usually have approximately 100 faculty who volunteer their time at SEALS to make this workshop run. I am writing you just to clarify that my workshop will continue to operate the same way that it has each year to this point. I have no involvement with the new hiring initiative." I'm sure Professor Areheart does an excellent job with this, and I commend him for his efforts in helping law teaching candidates.
December 16, 2018
The consulting firm McKinsey is a leading employer of graduates of elite law schools, business schools, medical schools, and other professional programs. The New York Times recently ran a piece attempting to link McKinsey to regimes that abuse human rights. McKinsey's response appears below.
Readers of this blog are probably familiar with how uneven in quality New York Times coverage can be in the higher education context. I would encourage readers not to jump to conclusions about McKinsey based on N.Y. Times coverage.
Note: I worked as consultant at McKinsey in New York approximately 10 years ago. I have published in the N.Y. Times within the last 3 years.
December 12, 2018
LSAC is rolling out several initiatives to make the LSAT more accessible, including a tablet-based version of the test that will increase the number and type of facilities that can serve as test administration centers, and will pave the way for more frequent test administration. LSAT takers will also be able to take the essay portion of the exam from home through "remote proctoring."
LSAC is also offering free online LSAT test preparation and practice questions.
A competing standardized test that is less universally accepted for law school admission, the GRE, is available at administration centers on an almost continuous basis.
Bar examiners might want to consider investing in technology to increase the frequency with which the bar is administered and reduce the amount of time it takes to grade.
December 01, 2018
AAUP investigation of Vermont Law School for "eviscerating tenure" could jeopardize Vermont's reaccreditation (Michael Simkovic)
The American Association of University Professors recently authorized an investigation of Vermont Law School following a restructuring that stripped most of Vermont's tenured faculty members of tenure and slashed their pay. The restructuring was reportedly undertaken without sufficient evidence of financial exigency and did not follow proper procedures. I've previously noted that if allegations prove true, this restructuring could present challenges for Vermont when it seeks to renew its ABA accreditation because the restructuring may violate ABA standard 405. A negative report from the AAUP could influence the ABA site visit team and the Section on Legal Education. Vermont's next site visit is scheduled for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Even without regulatory action, a negative report could severely damage Vermont's academic reputation. Vermont remains home to well-respected legal scholars, such as Jennifer Taub, but since the restructuring the overwhelming majority of its classes are taught by adjuncts and lecturers.
AAUP's announcement of the investigation appears below:
October 18, 2018
Interesting stats, but bear in mind three things: first, this includes only students who refinanced their law school loans; second, schools continue to be a bit slippery about how they report average starting salaries; and third, average starting salaries are sensitive to region of the country (any school that primarily places in NYC "big law" will come out with higher average salaries, all else equal). The strong performance by major regional schools--like BYU and Georgia--is striking.
August 08, 2018
The ABA recently voted to permit a dramatic expansion of online legal education.
Online education is controversial in higher education. It is even more controversial in legal education, which relies more on classroom interaction and less on lectures than most forms of higher education.
Widespread perceptions that online education is lower quality than live instruction in general—and may be particularly disadvantageous in legal education—are backed by numerous peer-reviewed empirical studies.
Proponents of online education argue that it is more convenient because students and faculty do not have to commute, or because students can learn at their own pace. They argue that it is potentially more cost effective, either because physical facilities need not be used, or because it is scalable, or because an artisanal model of teaching through knowledgeable faculty can be replaced with a less expensive, industrial model of low-skill specialized workers who each handle particular aspects of course development and teaching. Some argue that technology can be used to closely monitor and track students, and that the information gathered can be used to improve the quality of education.
Critics of online education argue that it is lower quality, that most students learn and absorb less, and that the social dynamic of the classroom and learning from one’s peers and interacting with alumni is a critical part of education. (In addition to multiple peer-reviewed studies, they point to recent examples of “online education” such as self-paced workplace training modules as examples of the low quality that can be expected.)
Critics point to the failure of MOOCS—which have extremely low completion rates (see also here)—as evidence of the limits of scalability. They point to the pricing and cost experience of most universities, which have seen high costs of developing and maintaining online courses and additional software licensing fees which have prevented them from charging much less for online classes than for those taught in person. And they point to a rash of cheating and distracted learning, which anecdotally seem to be more prevalent online than in person.
Perhaps the most empirically rigorous (and recent) study of online education to date—which relied on an experimental design with random assignment of students to different versions of the same introductory economics course—found evidence that “live-only instruction dominates internet instruction . . . particularly . . . for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students.” An earlier study which also used a quasi-experimental approach, found similar results, especially for complex conceptual learning:
“We find that the students in the virtual classes, while having better characteristics, performed significantly worse on the examinations than the live students. This difference was most pronounced for exam questions that tapped the students' ability to apply basic concepts in more sophisticated ways, and least pronounced for basic learning tasks such as knowing definitions or recognizing important concepts . . .
Choosing a completely online course carries a penalty that would need to be offset by significant advantages in convenience or other factors important to the student. . . . Doing as well in an online course as in the live alternative seems to require extra work or discipline beyond that demonstrated by our students, especially when it comes to learning the more difficult concepts.”