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Law school death watch

[ 41 ] August 16, 2013 |

San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law joins Florida Coastal and Hamline as prominent recent admits into legal academia’s ICU:

The Thomas Jefferson School of Law will begin a new semester Monday with 12 fewer employees after the administration cut $4.4 million from its budget because of declining enrollment.

Thomas Guernsey, who took over as dean of the school on July 1, said Thursday that some adjunct faculty and other staff members were laid off. Fourteen classes that had low enrollment or were highly specialized were eliminated, he said.

(h/t ichininonsan at JDU. Given the precedents at FCSL and Hamline, the administration’s claim that only adjunct faculty and staff have been laid off warrants considerable skepticism).

How bad are things at TJSL? The school is carrying $133 million (!) in debt, incurred when it paid for a 305,000 square foot eight-story new law building in downtown San Diego, completed two years ago. It’s also dealing with a lawsuit by former students, which has survived a motion to dismiss and is now in full discovery. Here are some stats regarding the school’s most recent entering classes:

2010:

Applicants: 3,323
Offers: 1,604
Percentage of applicants admitted: 48.27%
Total matrics: 422
Median GPA: 3.00
Median LSAT: 151 (49th percentile)
Transfers in: 0
Transfers out: 48
Academic attrition: 35
Total full-time faculty and administrators: 44

2011

Applicants: 2,697
Offers: 1478
Percentage of applicants admitted: 54.8%
Total matrics: 440
Median GPA: 3.01
Median LSAT: 151
Transfers in: 3
Transfers out: 43
Academic attrition: 41
Total full-time faculty and administrators: 50

2012

Applicants: 2,200
Offers: 1,613
Percentage of applicants admitted: 73.3%
Total matrics: 387
Median GPA: 2.93
Median LSAT: 148 (37th percentile)
Transfers in: 9
Transfers out: 49
Academic attrition: 58
Total full-time faculty and administrators: 55

The school’s drastic slashing of already-low admission standards has not forestalled a collapse in this year’s enrollment. First year orientation began this week, with only 250 students in the new entering class.

Given that the school appears to depend on tuition for an astonishing 97% of its operating revenue, that it doesn’t have a parent university to bail it out, and that its only significant asset is a piece of San Diego real estate with a generic eight-story office building on it, the faculty lounge probably shouldn’t be stocked with green bananas.

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  1. why the increase in administrators? says:

    ?

    • Craigo says:

      That tuition money isn’t going to spend itself.

    • eap says:

      Apparently it’s changed; since July 1 acc’g to the above article it’s 12 fewer so 55-12 is 43.
      Has anyone noticed now many transfer out? That should be a hint on how great the school is. Also, is everyone aware that 50% of each class is dropped? They like taking your money but don’t care what happens to your efforts. Taken from personal experience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why the disparity between 2010/11 “Total FULL TIME faculty and administrators” and the 2012 “Total faculty and administrators”? Do the 2012 numbers include part-time faculty and administrator? Hard to compare apples to apples here.

  3. cpinva says:

    what would really make those stats stick out, is putting them side-by-side, on an excel spreadsheet. as bad as they are, laid out in the format you’re using, the spreadsheet would really make them leap off the page.

    • Hogan says:

      Afwan’s link below has the student numbers in graph form.

      • cpinva says:

        “Afwan’s link below has the student numbers in graph form.”

        thanks. unfortunately (in my opinion), the rest of the data is jumbled all over the page, making it difficult to compare, year-to-year. a straight forward spreadsheet, with each data point, for each year, listed in a side-by-side format would (again, in my opinion) provide the reader a more useful comparative experience. just a suggestion.

  4. Burt Harbinson says:

    There has to be a way to gain monetarily from the (deserved) collapse of these despicable institutions… maybe an ETF that shorts the bonds for these institutions. Same way a few made money off the shorting of bonds with sub-prime RMBS. It would offset the losses for many of the graduates.

  5. Afwan says:

    Sadly, the most surprising information in your piece is that there are still 250 students in the TJSL entering class. Within a few minutes, one can find some damning information via http://www.lstscorereports.com/?school=thomasjefferson

    • matt says:

      It makes a great deal of sense for students to attend TJSL because of the gov’t willingness to loan students the money to pay tuition, and living expenses, and the gov’t incredibly generous programs to forgive these same loans. Consider a person receiving a BA in political science, anthropology or some similar major. Many of these students did not do well in college and so their best option for employment is something menial like Starbucks. It looks much better to potential dates to say you’re in law school than to say you work at starbucks. Moreover, TJSL is likely less demanding than starbucks and may even provide a higher standard of living (if it doesn’t TJSL just needs to increase the amount they tell the gov’t students need for living expenses). Here’s the best part. You don’t need to pay the money back. After you graduate you either go to work at starbucks, where your income is low enough that the gov’t picks up all of your loan payments, or you enroll in another graduate program (maybe an LLM) and your payments are deferred. In light of this I’m surprised applications are going down. TJSL needs to do a better job getting out the word that law school is not only free, but that you get paid to go.

  6. cpinva says:

    my kingdom for a preview/edit function! well, maybe just a horse.

    in chemistry, there is a phenomenon called “super saturation”, where a liquid can absorb no more of whatever solid you’re dissolving in it (salt in water, for example), and the excess falls to the bottom of the flask, still in solid form. it would appear, based on your posts, that point has been reached, in the legal field.

    • sc says:

      pedantically: isn’t what you described just plain saturation? super-saturation is more like when you are able to get more solute than normal into a solvent thanks to heating, probably – and then after the solution is cooled any shock to the solution will cause all the excess to crystallize and precipitate out at once.

    • Bubba says:

      Actually, super-saturation refers to a super-saturated solution – so for example salt dissolved in hot water that is allowed to cool – if in a very smooth vessel and free from any grit or impurities the solution can remain a total liquid – but any sort of event – a rough surface can lead to abrupt precipitation – sudden salt formation. Freezing rain is a sort of super-saturate – supercooled water

  7. John McEnroe says:

    Paul,

    I know that you have written about the transfer game, where students from schools like TJSL will transfer to higher ranked schools after their first year. As you know, TJSL is a fourth tier schools, so do you have any information about whether or not TJSL receives any influx of transfer applications from students at other schools? If TJSL is at the bottom of the law school pecking order, there won’t really be any lower ranked schools for students to move “up” from to TJSL. So if TJSL takes a big hit in 1L enrollment, it may likely take a big hit as students transfer out, which would further strain TJSL’s operating budget.

    • Paul Campos says:

      I’ve added the transfer info to the OP, along with data on academic attrition (One rather morbidly interesting feature of this situation is the extent to which faculty retain genuine independence to flunk people out, in a context in which tuition pays all the bills and the school is already dealing with a multi-million dollar annual deficit).

      • Anonymous says:

        You have to understand how badly the people who flunk out have likely performed. There is no way those people would ever be able to pass any state’s bar exam. Schools might not worry about employment stats, but bar-passage stats can lead to loss of accreditation. The school is probably just happy to have gotten a year’s worth of tuition from these students without taking a hit to their bar-passage rate.

        • cpinva says:

          “The school is probably just happy to have gotten a year’s worth of tuition from these students without taking a hit to their bar-passage rate.”

          not just tuition. in my experience, the first year is where you tend to get hit the most, financially, with all kinds of one-time fees. after that, your marginal cost drops, as does the school’s revenues from you.

          • TWBB says:

            Back in the early 2000′s, TJSL was known for offering free first-year tuition to incoming students who met certain LSAT/GPA metrics (that weren’t really that hard to meet). Are they still doing that? If so I wouldn’t be surprised so many people transfer out for their second year, but I’m guessing there’s no way they could afford to do that now.

            • Paul Campos says:

              Per ABA data not a single full-time student at the school received a full-tuition scholarship last year (four part-time students did). More strikingly, only 8.2% of students received a 50% (or larger) discount on sticker tuition. More than half of all students were paying sticker, while another 40% were receiving fairly small discounts.

  8. Richard Hershberger says:

    Could you expand on that lawsuit in discovery? How is it different from other suits that got dismissed?

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not different at all, except that it was filed in California under California’s consumer protection statutes, which seem to be much better – from the plaintiffs’ perspective – than those in New York or Michigan.

      • Paul Campos says:

        I’m not an expert by any means on this topic, but from reading the opinions it appears to me the main difference in the cases is that the California lawsuit isn’t before an actively hostile judge (the dismissal of the Cooley suit, in which the judges acknowledged that Cooley affirmatively lied about its graduates’ employment outcomes, was especially egregious).

        • Anonymous says:

          That could be a factor, of course. But if you read the California opinion denying the school’s MSJ, the judge was very much aware of the other opinions and took care to distinguish California law from the other states’ law.

  9. Monday Night Frotteur says:

    Somebody transferred *in* to Thomas Jefferson? Why?

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe a transfer from one of CA’s non-ABA-accredited law schools? Or someone from a different T4 school who had a working spouse that found a job in the area?

  10. Jameson says:

    I know somebody who transferred from Thomas Jefferson to Boston College. Think it shows a fair amount of desperation on the part of Boston College as well.

  11. Jake says:

    “The recession has basically caught up with law school enrollment,” Wulfemeyer said.

    That’s spin.

    The sad truth is that the only thing that has changed is that potential applicants have more information about the job prospects at a school like TJSL than they had previously. Whereas before applicants relied significantly on the salary information provided by the law schools when making the fateful decision to take on six-figure non-dischargeable dent, there is a greater awareness now that those statistics are practically cooked up out of thin air.

    Greater access to information and knowledge has led to applicants staying away in droves. The school now recruits heavily, and extracts revenue from, a “diverse” group of low-information applicants whose ability to actually pass the bar and practice law is questionable, at best.

    That’s reality.

  12. Jake says:

    To me the most surprising statistic is the steady uptick in academically dismissed students.

    You don’t often see willing buyers kicked off of a used car lot. Bar passage factors certainly come into play, I guess.

    On second thought, I think Paul might have used the same used car lot metaphor in a ITLSS post on for-profit law schools.

  13. Bill S Preston Esq says:

    148 median LSAT?? I don’t want to be mean or anything, but how in the hell are they going to pass the bar exam?

    Look. Some smart, successful friends of mine didn’t blow the LSAT out of the water. But sub-150 I really have to question whether, capability of passing the bar aside, these people have the cognitive skills to be lawyers. Most people score higher than 150ish taking a diagnostic LSAT before they start studying. Again. Not trying to be mean. But how bad do we want to dilute the profession? Not that most of these people will practice, but it’s a thought.

  14. Jesse Levine says:

    A good opportunity to vent. As a long ago graduate of one of the most “selective” law schools, I would do away with the whole thing. One year of law school,run by the Bar Association or state,for research, writing and the basic curiculum; three years of clerkship, and take the bar exam. All of the rest is good for nothing but networking.

    • divadab says:

      Ah – the apprenticeship model. One very good way to limit new entries to the profession. The counter? It gives law firms even more power over their clerks, as the only route to practice. And law firms will tend to over-limit numbers, as their self-interest is served by having fewer than more lawyers competing.

      I tend to agree that we in America over-value universities and under-value apprenticeships, unlike, e.g. Germany, which actually seems to want to prosper its young rather than consign them to a lifetime of debt servitude.

      • Strong Thermos says:

        But under the current system of reading law (in Virginia maybe?) can’t you do your “apprenticeship” or whatever you call it with a judge. That would make sense. I mean, we need a lot of different kinds of lawyers. Do we want *every* lawyer to have been trained and apprenticed by BigLaw? I don’t think so. You should be able to work with federal and state judges and nonprofits, and other government positions both federal and state (AG and DA, etc). Employers still have power, but it’s not only firms (and it really shouldn’t be either).

        Also, I don’t know how to solve this. But I don’t think lawyers should be generalists. We should be more like doctors. The average member of the public probably thinks that their trusts and estates guy is competent to handle their criminal case-many people don’t know better. Work in BigLaw? Become a certified litigator, transactional guy. Work for a judge? Also become a certified litigator. DA? Certified in criminal law and maybe family law if you do enough DV. Once you’re licensed, if you want to change take a certification exam in the new area.

      • firefall says:

        Well, they dont actively hate their young after all, something that the US has long shown many signs of doing.

  15. [...] Paul Campos (Colorado), Law School Death Watch: [...]

  16. [...] Columbia, when in fact in terms of outcomes for its graduates it’s far more comparable to Thomas Jefferson. As a new paper from Bernie Burk emphasizes, the marked contraction in the market for entry-level [...]

  17. Jack says:

    Paul,

    It is premature to place TJ on any death watch. I think you misunderstand the economics of that particular law school. The JD program is but a small portion of the school’s revenue.

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