HOODWINKED. The grad school scam: now spawning an industry of transparency near you (hopefully).

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I guess Goldman Sachs isn’t the only one with stuff to explain.

Big ol’ hazard: graduate and professional schools are their own primary marketers to prospective students. 

Schools are by definition good news Charlies. None say “Our program sucks and is overpriced and you won’t get a job, so don’t come.” So who should care what they say? Rather you should care when it differs from the truth by 180 degrees.  And the truth  has some now in a tizzy.

A lawyer emailed me yesterday about “yet another” constellation of disgruntled attorneys lamenting about their fruitless training. But this was more organized.

First this: Law and business schools have 1 customer: industry. Bad ones focus their sales force on students to fill seats and draw revenues now. Good ones focus on the market demands in graduates.

Bad ones think teaching in isolate is their business, and job placement is a student’s personal problem. Bad ones also think the university is for the faculty or administrators, with the students acting as some paying audience. Bad ones manipulate optimism + information asymmetries: they know you want roses in your future and they know you can’t discern the truth of their bad deal conveniently until they have your money. It works short term—or used to.  These people know sales.  They can recruit. Law and business schools are prime revenue generators for a university. And visit any school.  The law school is the most beautiful real estate on the whole campus. And gets more beautiful every few years. Near cathedrals. I don’t care who you are you feel like a Supreme Court Justice when you walk in there. Not accidental either. And generally the more real estate, the more folk they can sell to and the more revenues they bring. Seductive.

But:

  1. 44% of the graduating class didn’t have a job at graduation.
  2. Of the 56% who “did”  80% came from China, Japan, and India and were legally obligated to work for their sponsor after graduation–they didn’t need a job. Be assured, however, that they were in undifferentiated fashion all counted in the placement statistics as “being employed” by graduation.
  3. Some programs have made that very profile their main meal at Admissions. Clever.
  4. And there were 3 on-campus recruiters—one of which was the local grocery chain.

But you owe a new hundred grand. Whoa—law school—you owe a new hundred and fifty grand.

So graduates have started to figure they deserve better. The level of complaint is dense and data centric. Law students are doing math and are now armed with stats and charts on “the scam”.  There’s buzz. Frustration. Angst. And the sheer numbers of disgruntled aren’t explainable by a “bad economy”.

Lies got told. Industrially.

Like a CEO restating earnings, grad schools are having to restate placement statistics, according to transparency seekers. Newbies like the Johns Hopkins Carey MBA about which I’ve previously posted have already started misleading and aren’t even accredited yet. It’s a shame for Johns Hopkins, prospective students and higher ed. Their website is typical: beautiful, without making the case. Try to find who prospective employers will be; what the competitive advantage is; what research justifies it’s entry into the market. Nothing.

But that will be $46,000 per year. They’re clear about that. $92,000 for what? To create a job for a JH professor? (And when you start a program, shouldn’t you mostly pay the students to enroll and not the other way around? Must students take on all the risk? On the other hand, don’t be duped by something “free”. Because it’s not. You spend your time and forgo other opportunity.)

Simply listen to the Dean “selling” the program. Heartbreaking. It’s nothing like that credible and distinctive brand you encounter at Johns Hopkins Medical Center from the circulation desk staffers to the Chief of Gastroenterology.

Rumblings like the WSJ law blog aren’t new. But recent higher ed critics have outright formed a transparency non profit. What does it mean when the products of a grad program feel so duped it spawns an industry. The “grad scam” is making lawyers start transparency nonprofits. That’s like a pimp starting an abstinence campaign.

Topic discussions have included these notes from a WSJ story and blog:

  • “The 2,300-word story, a page one WSJ story includes lots of data and real-life examples showing how life outside BigLaw has gotten tougher, and how some law schools are doing their best not to let the word out.”
  • “Now, debate is intensifying among law-school academics over the integrity of law schools’ marketing campaigns.”
  • “Some law-school academics are calling for the distribution of more-accurate employment information.”
  • “The only employment data that many prospective law students see come from school-promoted surveys that provide a far-from-complete portrait of graduate experiences.”
  • “Prospective students need solid comparative data on employment outcomes, [but] very few law schools provide such data,” says Andrew Morriss, an Illinois Law professor who has studied the market for new lawyers.
  • “Universities are starting up more law schools in part for prestige but also because they are money makers.”
  • Many students “simply cannot earn enough income after graduation to support the debt they incur,” wrote Richard Matasar, dean of New York Law School, in 2005, concluding that, “We may be reaching the end of a golden era for law schools.”
  • “The legal sector, after more than tripling in inflation-adjusted growth between 1970 and 1987, has grown at an average annual inflation-adjusted rate of 1.2% since 1988, or less than half as fast as the broader economy, according to Commerce Department data.”

Too many higher ed consumers think the real  story wasn’t told. They’re right. And they’re fighting back.  It’s a good thing.

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