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Schools Cut Enrollment, Faculty; ABA Wants Faculty Job Security

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By William Peacock, Esq. on July 16, 2013 12:51 PM

You might see this as a massive market correction: a long-overdue reduction in school seats and bloated faculty salaries necessitated by an industry in decline and tens of thousands of unemployed graduates. We might point out that as the recession really hit, in 2010 or so, law schools increased their class sizes (despite signs that employment numbers were plummeting), and now, enrollment has merely returned to pre-recession levels.

Meanwhile, the ABA, despite the economic downturn, less demand for legal education, and no jobs for graduates, is hoping to modify their law school accreditation criteria to ensure that no faculty members lose their jobs.

The Sky is Falling!

The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday that reads like a list of war casualties. Hamline University School of Law has cut its faculty by 18 percent since 2010. Their enrollment has dropped 55 percent, to about 100 students, since 2010. To keep their ranking, they're handing out more scholarships. 

Less than half as many students, more financial aid, and only an 18 percent cut in faculty?

Oh, and Dean Don Lewis is leaving next year.

Seton Hall in Newark, New Jersey, cut enrollment 43 percent between 2010 and 2012 and is also notifying faculty about potential non-renewals of contracts.

Or Not.

Then again, take a look at 2010. National enrollment swelled to more than 52,000 -- an all-time record. The Journal says that the "pendulum is now swinging the other way." That's a nice way to put it. 

The reality is, students were desperate to flee the recession, applied in record numbers, and despite the downturn in the legal market (from personal experience, the on-campus interviews and job fairs of 2009 and 2010 were as barren as the Mojave desert), schools bumped up enrollment.

The Journal also notes that applications for 2013 are down 36 percent compared to 2010, but what we'd really like to know is how much they are down since pre-escape-the-recession times.

Let's check out the LSAC's data:

Year ABA Applications ABA First-Year Enrollment
Fall 2013 380,429*  
Fall 2012 469,600 48,700
Fall 2011 536,500 52,500
Fall 2010 602,300 51,600
Fall 2009 564,000 49,400
Fall 2008 530,600 48,900
Fall 2007 514,800 48,100

*As of 06/28/13.

Interesting, huh? We see a brief spike in applications at the height of the recession, followed by the "no jobs" plummet. Enrollment, however, has barely returned to pre-recession levels (so far). 

Less students clamoring for the same number of spots means schools are competing, which means more scholarships to "buy" those LSAT scores for purposes of rankings, and as a result, a lot less tuition revenue.

Is a reduction in faculty all that unexpected then?

Alas, the ABA will save the day. One of their committees is recommending that law school accreditation standards be amended to require that schools provide some sort of job security to their full-time faculty members. Interestingly enough, an intrepid commenter on the ABA's website sarcastically points out that "a mere nine of fourteen members of the ABA Section on Legal Education are law school faculty or university administrators."

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