The Higher Education Bubble and Employment Outcomes: Part 2

by: Sharon Belden Castonguay, EdD
Director, Graduate Career Management Center
Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business
New York, NY

Like most of my business school career services colleagues, I dread reporting season, that time of year when MBA programs report to the MBA Career Services Council—and soon afterwards media outlets like US News and World Report—the employment outcomes of its students. Having to account for each student’s employment status is a herculean task, even for very small full time MBA programs like my own. In fact, having such a small graduating class may make things more emotional, as in many cases I know not only the details of the success stories but also the near misses. Why can’t there be categories like, “has been working part time on a 1099 since January but the company is in a hiring freeze”?

But recent media coverage of lawsuits and new legislation surrounding graduate employment reminds me why the process is so important. Late last year the Chronicle of Higher Education began reporting on efforts by a nonprofit called Law School Transparency to get law schools to report with more accuracy their employment outcomes of new graduates. There is no question that the recession has hit those starting out in the legal profession particularly hard. Many students entered law school in droves just like they did other graduate programs when things first started taking a turn for the worse, and now many of them have graduated with six figure debt—and no job. New York Times reporter David Segal has been particularly outspoken on this topic and determined to get these issues widespread attention.

One might reasonably ask whether the students are simply expressing their frustration over the economy. But what’s really at issue is fair reporting: while the National Association for Law Placement issues guidelines to law school career offices similar to how the MBA Career Services Council does for business schools, much of the criticism stems from the fact that the American Bar Association is allegedly not adequately policing this process, resulting in scofflaws and duped students.

The Chronicle reports that the first school to be hit with a law suit, in May 2011, was Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, followed soon after by New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School (Lansing, MI). In October, USA Today reported that Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were calling for an Education Department investigation into law schools, expressing concern over the fact that enrollments and tuition have been growing despite allegedly “sluggish” employment outcomes. Class actions suits filed in February against 12 additional law schools, mainly in California, New York, and Illinois, with 20 more following earlier this month.

Last week a state judge dismissed the suit against New York Law School. But the ABA is moving toward new disclosure requirements that would require its accredited law schools to provide detailed information about the employment outcomes of its graduates.  Under this proposed accreditation standard schools would have to post this information on their web sites.

Are business schools ready to be the next target for debt-ridden, unemployed graduates? Are liberal arts colleges? PhD programs?

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