Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

More on Law School Grade Inflation: A New York Times Article

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 Law Schools Visit Lake Wobegon – Economix Blog – NYTimes.com, June 22, 2010

I’m seeing more articles about the legal industry with some refreshingly honest one-liners: “To paraphrase the late, great  Henny Youngman: Take our graduates — please!”

That is the message blasting from the nation’s law schools, those cash cows of higher education that could once promise lucrative employment to the nation’s risk-averse young adults. Now the legal job market has turned chilly, though, and schools are trying everything from literally paying employers to hire their students to retroactively inflating their alumni’s grades. [emphasis mine]. I appreciate the raw characterization of these institutions of higher learning. But where was this integrity 15 years ago; it only surfaces when those who were in line for the next round of promised BigLaw employment are affected that more media outlets bring attention to it…or that the lid was on top of the boiling legal industry ready to spill over, but adding ingredients of false imagery, justification, cajoling and misrepresented statistics finally spilled over, a likely combination of both.

The schools making the changes range from all over the spectrum, from the tippy-top-ranked schools like Harvard and Stanford (which no longer use traditional grades) to other top-20 schools like New York University, Duke, Georgetown and Washington University in St. Louis as well as schools further down in the rankings like Tulane, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. In a sense, the economy became a great leveler of talent that was disbursed throughout the different law schools, but these recent changes in grading policies across the spectrum has led to a new characterization of IVY League and top fourteen law schools: ‘First Tier Toilets.’ Ouch.

I talked with a lot of law school deans and others involved in the “grade reform” process, and pretty much everyone argued that their school wasn’t trying to “leapfrog” anyone, just to keep an “equal playing field” with their “peer schools,” which already had higher grades. And likewise students whose schools have not yet inflated their grading systems are complaining that they are currently at a disadvantage in the job market.  Do people really think this will make a difference?

Higher grades (or no grades at all) are probably good for stressed-out students’ morale. But it is hard to say whether a stricter or a more lenient grading curve makes much difference to students’ job prospects, especially since many law firms try to keep up with what the schools are doing. (Above the Law, a legal news and gossip blog, has been publicizing such changes to schools’ grading systems, for example.)

I will now start my ramblings: Maybe in the schools’ rankings, the schools’ qualification for federal funding, the schools’ justification to continue tuition increases. However, for the law graduate it’s an odd benefit. Since a certain number of grades each semester had to be disbursed throughout the class, those who were intelligent may have been given the luck of the draw lower grade. So those who are above the curve, whether more talented or not continued to gain advantages over the former. Now, we can also theorize that the change in the grading process could give those who should’ve been above the curve the grade they deserved in the first place. With all of this convolution, it appears that the law school grading system was flawed in the first place and the likely privileged are now complaining because they were accustomed to the golden path to BigLaw. Yet, this argument against grade inflation will always exist: The flattened grading curve can make it harder for standout students to continue to, well, stand out. Grade inflation may particularly hurt top students at mediocre law schools, who want to show they can compete with job applicants from more elite institutions.

The bottom line is that the legal industry is unable to create new jobs in this failing economy. Increasing grades will not truly increase competition. The real issue is the number of new law schools that continue to become accredited and the increased number of law graduates that are continuously pumped into the market.

Have You Heard?: Feds Investigate For-Profit Universities Amidst Growing Default

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ahhh, it’s like music to our ears? On June 21, 2010 a U.S. Senate Committee announced a hearing entitled “Emerging Risk? An Overview of the Federal Investment in For-Profit Education”:  US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions: Newsroom – Press Releases

With the current economy and an increase of debt and student loan defaults, the federal government finally became satiated and wants answers. I really don’t understand how such a big portion of the U.S. economy both mortgages and student loans could remain unregulated for two decades and after the emerging economic collapse the question is asked “what happened?” o.k…let’s see if a little common sense will clarify: when you don’t supervise a sector and allow them to run amuck they will do anything they can, find any loophole, use any possible agent, step on the average American to get that almighty dollar. But as long as it APPEARED that the economy is ok and the private sector seemed to know what it was doing a blind eye was turned. Now, evidence of the economic consequence is so great, the country has to address it, though it appears it’s too late. Then again, it’s not like the exact same people have been in control or even members of Congress for the past two decades–wait the majority has. Yet, we have to give credit to the federal government for taking a major step to address these issues. Anyway… 

“More than two decades have passed since Congress last examined the for-profit education sector and in that time, we have seen an explosion in growth in for-profit colleges, and in the federal taxpayer dollars they receive,” said Harkin.  With students, families and taxpayers investing so heavily in for-profit institutions through large loan debt and billions of dollars in federal student aid, we must ensure that student are actually getting the knowledge and skills they need to pay off the debt. Congress has notice the massive debt that university students incur, without the ability find jobs in this horrible economy or actually demonstrate practical skills in the job market, thus making the university student “unmarketable” because as you know, you are considered as a commodity. You are a social security number, a statistic, owned by the private industry, that’s why your debt can be traded to whoever buys it and you have no say in the matter. 

“While for-profit colleges have a responsibility to their shareholders, they also have a responsibility to provide educational value to their students, and an obligation to ensure that the federal dollars they receive are well spent, particularly now that Congress has made an historic investment in student aid.” Historic? This word should cause us all concern, this sounds like a venture that is unprecedented which will require a different type of solution. The past two decades the federal government increasingly spent taxpayer dollars on colleges and universities without seeing a return. Maybe now the federal government understands what the average law graduate deals with everyday of his/her life.  College students graduating to become working citizens and meaningful participants in the growth of the economy (no, buying branded lattes does not count). But, let’s face facts, the government is seeing a constant money loss and want their money back, which is its right, however my skepticism dictates that it hardly cares whether or not students received a valuable education, just that, because the latter is lacking so is the student loans’ repayment rate. 

Witnesses will include:
Panel I
Kathleen Tighe, Inspector General, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC
Panel II
Steven Eisman, Portfolio Manager, FrontPoint Financial Services Fund, LP, New York, NY
Yasmine Issa, former Sanford Brown Institute student, Yonkers, NY
Sharon Thomas Parrott, Senior Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Compliance Officer, DeVry, Inc., Chicago, IL
Margaret Reiter, former Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, California Department of Justice, San Francisco, CA
  
Notice that not one dean of student affairs, university president, graduate student, or parent with a PLUS loan aren’t participating in this hearing session. At least there is one undergraduate student, though she only has $20,000 of debt; compared to any graduate or professional school graduate we scoff at that, but suffering is suffering. Looking at numbers, filings and memoranda will not give the full picture of this epic problem. Sometimes putting the faces with the numbers, stories of devastated lives injects the creative adrenaline needed to garner a communicable solution.

In the first panel: Kathleen Tighe , Inspector General, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC, her testimony does not get too relevant until P. 12:   

“Considering the economic downturn over the last several years, combined with escalating student loan debts, a significant concern is the potential for increased loan defaults as we have seen the national cohort default rate increase recently.” I agree we all should be worried, but I wouldn’t characterize this particular concern as ‘potential’ I think it’s more accurate to say ‘inevitable.’ I had to find the definition of ‘cohort’ default rate which refers to borrowers entering into their repayment period. Those in deferment or forbearance mask what will be the default boom of student loans. 

Not addressed by this change were two issues noted in our earlier report. In that report, we identified that cohort default rates were not a true representation, as they were reduced by: (1) a statutory change to the HEA’s definition of default from 180 days of delinquency to 270 days of delinquency; this 90-day delay excludes a significant number of defaulters from the cohort default rate calculation; and (2) an increase in the use of deferments and forbearances. As well as providing an increased period of time for universities to seek more funding with a buffer period hiding the true default, thus making the institutions appear more qualified for additional federal funding, at least that’s my theory. 

 We found that deferments and forbearances had more than doubled in the period we examined.  Borrowers in deferment or forbearance do not make payments on their loans, so they are not counted as defaulters, but they continue to be counted with other students in the cohort, thus reducing the cohort rate. May she meant “reducing the ‘cohort default rate.”  I guess I did have the right line of thinking. 

 While we recognize that the Congress has provided additional repayment flexibilities, when borrowers reach the limits on deferments and begin repayment they may still lack the income and eventually default and are not accounted for in the cohort default rate. The rest of her testimony can be read here: [http://help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Tighe.pdf

I wanted to highlight one of the other testifiers Yasmine Issa, as she starts you feel as if she took a portion of your life transcript:  

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. My name is Yasmine Issa. I thought that going to school to learn a marketable skill would allow me to provide for my family. Instead it has left me more than $20,000 in debt, and unable to be hired in the field I trained for. The resounding imagery of your life has now flashed before your eyes. As you can see, she assumed that what she learn was actually a marketable skill, and as with many lawyers and law graduates was left unemployed. Oh and multiply that $20,000 by 5 and you have the average student loan debt for law graduates. The rest of her story diverges as her training was not from a certified school while law schools have no problem with accredidation [http://help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Issa.pdf]. I may have to do a Part II, but am unsure I can stomach it.