Kyle McEntee graduated from Vanderbilt University’s Law School earlier this month. Nevertheless, the North Carolina-bound attorney, who hopes to practice transactional law in that state, spent the greater part of his time in Nashville fighting for changes to law school disclosure rules that will never benefit him.
McEntee (pictured here) and partner Patrick J. Lynch, a New York-based attorney and fellow Vanderbilt law graduate, created, funded and developed lawschooltransparency.com in 2009. The nonprofit website was formed to track law school post-graduation employment data. But for the last several months, its purpose has morphed into a crusade.
McEntee and Lynch want to force law schools to report to the general public the percentage of first-year students who lose merit scholarships — a move that could change the enrollment dynamics at many institutions.
Law schools have historically touted the various forms of merit scholarships offered prospective students, features such as grants, fellowships and stipends. But schools have been equally reticent, if not altogether silent, when it came to disclosing the number of students losing merit scholarships, usually after their first — and most difficult — year.
The reason law schools don’t want to report this information is understandable. But that stance comes at a price, McEntee said.
“Without this information, a proper selection of law schools can’t be made,” he said because a law school’s true cost of educating its students remains unknown. Changing that could give prospective students a whole new view of their options.
The logic is this: First-year law students keep their merit scholarships if they achieve a certain grade point average. At Vanderbilt, that GPA is 2.0, which McEntee said means the issue doesn’t relate to the university.
“For the most part, students here aren’t going to have a problem with the 2.0,” McEntee said.
But for other law schools, where the target GPA is 3.0 or higher, the merit scholarship loss number means significantly more to prospective students. And since all law schools grade on a curve, the true cost of a legal education can’t be known even though the target GPA is.
“The issue at its most fundamental level,” McEntee said, “is that prospective students don’t know how the grading curve and the GPA expected interrelate.”
All of these factors combine to create an opaqueness regarding the true cost of a law school’s education. If the merit scholarship loss numbers were known, then prospective students would better understand not only a law school’s difficulty but they would have a better understanding of that school’s cost as they consider their chances of losing the scholarship money.
We’re looking into it
The American Bar Association has taken note of McEntee’s efforts and, through its powerful Standard Review Committee, has formed a subcommittee, dubbed Standard 509, to review the disclosure issue. The Standard Review Committee is the entity charged with law school accreditation. Standard 509 is the moniker given by the association to the rules applying to consumers and is the rule that may be modified.
The ABA will decide this issue in July. If Standard 509 is revised, then law schools will begin to disclose the merit scholarship loss number — and reap the consequences of that disclosure.
Belmont University, which opens its College of Law this fall, isn’t worried about the possible rule change since the law school has just been formed and historical merit scholarship loss numbers aren’t known.
“I haven’t seen the new language for Standard 509, but in my opinion more information is always better,” said Jeffrey Kinsler, Belmont’s College of Law dean.
The impetus behind McEntee’s grassroots campaign comprises several socioeconomic factors, including the recent interest in law school employment and the struggling economy.
Hulett H. Askew, a consultant on legal education and admission to the bar for the ABA in Chicago, said that when people start discussing jobs and careers, the cost of a legal education invariably arises. Then the merit scholarship reporting concern isn’t far behind.
Askew said several ideas are being bantered about in the halls of the ABA. One thought is to require law schools to post merit scholarship losses on their websites. Another option is to include the information in letters sent to merit scholarship recipients. The thinking there is that publishing data on a school’s website isn’t ideal; it then becomes impossible to know if a prospective student has seen the numbers.
Interestingly, Askew said, current law school students who have responded to this issue on the ABA website are unsympathetic to the whole project.
“They say that if these students are planning to be lawyers, they should have inquired as to all of the scholarship parameters,” Askew said.
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