After reading Sunday’s New York Times
report by David Segal, “How Law Students Lose the Grant Game, and How Schools Win,
” I’m drawing the conclusion the law school half-truths and trickery may be endemic. Segal tells how law schools use merit scholarships to game the law school ranking system. The schools lure better qualified prospects to school but then fail to tell them how bell curve grading yanks grant money away if grades fall below the required GPA. For some, it’s not “if” but “when.”
The report provides no data on the number of scholarships annually lost by students. That’s because there’s no incentive to track such incendiary data, let alone want to disclose it.
Students taken in by the trap call it nothing more than ‘bait and switch,’ which may be appropriate if prospective students are like mice drawn to the scholarship cheese set in the grading curve trap. First year students scholarship recipients have to maintain the cumulative GPA established by the school so when they predictably don’t, they lose their tuition money after that first year. Daunting prospects are then faced of either racking up huge loans for absurd tuition debt or saying ‘adios’ to law school.
It’s bitter disappointment, particularly when the students aren’t told beforehand about grading on the curve and how tough a bell curve can be since the frequency distribution of the grades has been predetermined in advance.
And one less charitable but aptly cheeky description by an online listserv lawyer compares what these law schools are doing to the business model used by crack dealers to create new customers through drug sampling.
The disingenuity about the scholarships emanates from law school administrators’ bondage to a system run by “US News & World Report Law School Rankings.
” But when a magazine’s rankings become a law school’s raison d’être,
‘ the whole thing becomes more bane than blessing. The tail is wagging the dog and the ungrateful cur is biting those who feed it.
Cockroaches scatter when the kitchen light comes on. Those involved run from responsibility in the same way. The law schools claim not to have realized what they’ve been doing. And some law school officials even have the stones to imply caveat emptor, i.e., that students aren’t looking since the data is supposedly available on school websites. But in truth, if disclosures exist at all, you have to know how and where to look.
Yet the best quote is from the fellow who oversees the law school rankings at US News and World Report. He blames the law school admittees “who are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.”
But the reason this is being done is not only because law schools can. It’s because moving up the law school rankings means enhanced status and more law school admissions. This translates into improving the bottom line.
As Segal notes in his well-written account, it’s ironic the absence of “good faith and full disclosure” in not fully disclosing how scholarship awards are tied to bell curve grading comes from a place where ethics, good faith, and fair dealing are supposedly taught.
But then perhaps that’s just how it should be. It’s a hard lesson law students have to learn anyway. After all, cynics already unfairly maintain lawyering is really just about finding ways to screw the other guy before he screws you.