Will For-Profit Law Schools See More Scrutiny?
A number of legal education observers are calling for tougher restrictions on for-profit law schools.
The recent comments follow the September release of summer bar exam results, where less than half of students at Florida Coastal School of Law had passed, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Andrew Kreighbaum, a reporter at Inside Higher Ed, reported that Florida Coastal School of Law has seen the lowest passage rate among all law programs in the state for three of the last four consecutive bar exams.
“The poor bar exam showings point to how the for-profit law school found itself ‘seriously out of compliance’ with the standards of its accreditor, the American Bar Association, last month,” Kreighbaum says. “And the high debt load of law students combined with those academic shortcomings has led legal education observers to see a pattern among institutions operated by the law school’s parent company, InfiLaw.”
The ABA notified Florida Coastal leaders that the law school had “fallen short of the standards after a regular review.”
“Those standards deal specifically with whether a law school’s program is rigorous enough for students to pass the bar and succeed in the profession, whether it provides meaningful academic support, and whether it admits too many underqualified applicants unlikely to succeed in the program and pass the bar after graduating,” Kreighbaum says.
InfiLaw has seen a number of its programs fail to meet ABA standards. In March, InfiLaw’s Arizona Summit Law School was placed on probation after producing the second-lowest bar pass rate in school history, according to azcentral. In August, Charlotte Law School was shut down after being placed on probation and losing access to Title IV funds.
“Although Florida Coastal hasn’t been sanctioned like the other InfiLaw programs — a notice about compliance issues puts a program on alert but precedes steps such as censure, probation or loss of accreditation — in its October letter the ABA cited the same accreditation standards that Charlotte and Arizona Summit fell short of,” Kreighbaum says.
Tougher approach towards for-profit schools
After Charlotte Law School was placed on probation by the ABA in fall 2016, the Obama administration cut off Title IV federal funds, an essential source of funding for legal education programs.
According to the Department of Education, the school had made “substantial misrepresentations” to students by poorly preparing them for the legal profession and “saddling many with serious loan debt.”
The Obama administration’s decision to cut off Title IV federal funds marks a tougher approach towards for-profit schools.
Florida Coastal responds
In an email to students shared with Inside Higher Ed, Florida Coastal Dean Scott DeVito said there have been numerous misconceptions regarding the school. According to DeVito, the school is in no danger of closing and argued a number of points regarding the school’s quality and status:
- Compliance issues are not unique to the law school — at least 23 other programs have received letters about noncompliance issues since 2016.
- Florida Coastal does a good job educating its students, he said, based on the success of its transfer students at other institutions.
- The law school has actually bumped up its bottom-quartile LSAT score — the metric typically used to evaluate whether a school is admitting too many unprepared students -over the last two years.
“We trust that regulators will pay attention to these facts, and given the comparison to the schools mentioned above, we do not believe that there is a reasoned basis for closing the school,” DeVito wrote.
Critics call for tougher restrictions
Many critics of for-profit legal education have said that the repercussions facing InfiLaw haven’t been tough enough.
Ben Miller is senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. Miller tells Inside Higher Ed that the review of Charlotte Law found “serious cash flow issues with InfiLaw.”
“I’m shocked at the extent to which the various issues with the InfiLaw schools all appear to be treated separately,” Miller says.
Miller tells Inside Higher Ed that scrutiny of InfiLaw’s finances are directly connected to concerns over students’ academic preparation.
“These schools are basically 100 percent dependent on tuition. If they’re in financial trouble, they’re going to need more tuition dollars,” he says. “So they need to sacrifice either the quality of the student body and enroll people less equipped to succeed there, or cut expenditures.”
Kyle McEntee is the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that advocates for reforms in legal education. McEntee tells Inside Higher Ed that he has hope that the ABA or state regulators will provide greater scrutiny of legal programs. Yet, he says he can’t say the same for the Trump administration.
“They have thus far shown themselves to be more concerned with for-profit investors than with students,” McEntee says.
Sources: Inside Higher Ed, azcentral