A recent article reports on class action law suits filed against two American law schools, “charging that the job placement information they released to potential students was sufficiently inaccurate as to constitute fraud”.
“All of the suits argue that students were essentially robbed of the ability to make good decisions about whether to pay tuition (and to take out student loans) by being forced to rely on incomplete and inaccurate job placement information. Specifically, the suits charge that the law schools in question (and many of their peers) mix together different kinds of employment (including jobs for which a J.D. is not needed) to inflate employment rates.” The shift in standards could require schools to publicize accounts of job placement only for jobs for which a LL.B./J.D. is needed.
The obvious questions are legal and ethical: What is the responsibility of institutions of higher education in regards to advertising their programmes and the results of these programmes? Is padding the job placement rate numbers akin to false advertising? What constitutes padding the numbers?
But, I wonder if such thinking about law school also does a disservice to the institution of legal (or simply higher) education. A background of legal knowledge can prepare a person for many jobs for which a J.D. is not necessary but is very beneficial. Look at our politicians or boards of directors for nonprofit and for-profit organizations. A legal education can be a great thing, in-and-of-itself and in the job market. Could only reporting job placement for jobs for which a J.D. is absolutely necessary (such as a position as a lawyer in a law firm) discourage potential students with understated or poor employment prospects? As a parallel, a Ph.D. might be a worthy pursuit, but the percentage of doctoral graduates who acquire tenure-track professorial positions is quite low. However, it should not be inferred from this that, depending on the discipline, there aren’t many jobs for which such higher education might be valuable and perhaps even vital to getting the job (even though a doctorate wasn’t necessary in terms of the job description).
Perhaps a solution should be more transparency in regards to what the numbers mean, depicting the wide range of jobs that graduates pursue and land. Perhaps the aim should be more autonomy for prospective students: more complete information, rather than numbers, would be a better aid to making good decisions.