You’d think they’d know better. They’re law schools, after all.
This week, two law schools bucked the conventional wisdom that “any publicity is good publicity.” And it makes us wonder: What lengths will many schools go to keep their programs afloat?
Take Florida A&M University for starters. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the American Bar Association’s accreditation committee is awaiting the university’s written response regarding its high attrition rate for first-year students. The response, which is due on December 15, must also address the university’s admissions standards and its low graduation and bar passage rates.
Earlier this year, the ABA issued a second warning to Florida A&M, outlining how the school has failed to meet accreditation standards. Facing sanctions, the law school was able to demonstrate compliance in many areas. However, the accreditation committee remains concerned about the school’s admissions standards and academic support capabilities. According to a recent ABA report, the law school’s bar passage rate was over 15% lower than the state average every year from 2007 to 2011. Still, the university has made progress. In February, nearly 83% of Florida A&M law grads who took the bar passed on the first try. That was a sharp increase over the previous year’s 66% passage rate (and higher than the state average).
School officials will meet face-to-face with the accreditation committee on January 24, where they’ll present their findings and argue why the law school shouldn’t face penalties ranging from remedial action to probation. The university itself is already on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and School s for failing to meet various educational standards.
Of course, the Florida A&M case is ongoing. Rutgers University of Camden wasn’t so lucky. Their law school has been fined $25,000 by the ABA for admitting students who hadn’t taken the LSAT. Along with the fine, the law school must post a censure notice on its website for a year.
The issue stemmed from a misinterpretation of ABA policy. In certain cases, schools can seek permission from the ABA to factor other standardized tests into their admissions decisions. According to the investigation, Rutgers-Camden ran a special program where students were admitted based off GRE, GMAT, and MCAT scores. From 2006-2012, 7% of the law school’s students, on average, were admitted based on test scores derived from non-LSAT scores.
According to Rutgers-Camden law dean Rayman Solomon, the school only admitted students who scored highly on these alternative tests. However, the censure noted that the law school hadn’t requested the ABA’s permission to use tests other than the LSAT. Even more, Rutgers-Camden’s actions cast doubt on the validity of the school’s LSAT percentile scores, which are weighed heavily in US News and World Report’s annual law school rankings.
Despite the penalty, Rutgers-Camden probably got off easy. Law.com reports that the University of Illinois College of Law was fined “$250,000 for inflating the academic credentials of its incoming students for years.” Law.com also reported that Villanova was censured for similar conduct a year earlier.
As enrollments drop, it’ll be intriguing to see which schools start blurring the proverbial lines. You know what they say: “It isn’t hard to be principled in prosperous times. But the true test of character comes when you have to choose between morality and solvency.” Something tells me some schools will choose the latter. We’ll see.