Thursday, March 08, 2012

Law Schools Discover the Real Market; Something for Nothing

This post reflects two things. One is that having been in law teaching, in fact university teaching, most of my life, I have witnessed the gradual privitization of what once was public higher education. The other is the market working. The problem is that education markets often have an odd characteristic. Students pay for something and many -- not all -- want the least amount possible for their money. It would be like going to the Steak and Shake for a shake, paying your $4.00 (assuming you are not there during half price hours) and then saying, 'hold the shake, just give me the cup."

What is means is that light assignments are often preferred to heavy ones. Missed classes, to a limit, are applauded and dismissing class a few minutes early is highly desirable. If I compared the number of times a student asked "Do we need to know that" with the number of times one said "Could you give me some extra reading" I do not need to tell you the winner. The shorter the length of a required paper, the better. Of course, please no class on the eve of a holiday break. And a higher curve is the icing on the cake as well as unlimited pass/fail options.

How would one draw this demand curve? I am not sure and maybe it is different at schools where tuition is massive. Then again, the cost of going to the library and reading and learning virtually anything is close to zero. Among students, the quantity demanded at that price is tiny. Let's put this way; at every price, many students would prefer less rather than more of what they are paying for.

Now the financial squeeze has forced the hand of law schools. On the cost side there is greater reliance on adjuncts who will often teach for free in order to be called "professor." Teaching responsibilities are increasingly handed off to non tenure track professors whose jobs do not reflect a legitimate search process for the best candidates.

The demand side in more interesting. Law schools are finally getting around to giving many students what they want -- less of everything except nothing (there is plenty of that). On great example is externships which amount to Law schools pimping out the students. The law students work for nothing, the law school collects hefty tuition and engages in what too often is nominal supervision. Some schools have gone as far as offering finder's fees to faculty who "supervise" externships.

Another example is selling credits. For example, suppose you are a foreign student looking for an LLM program. You'd like to transfer some credits to lower your tuition. How does a school make money by decreasing the credits required to be taken on campus. It's easy. Say a one year program consisting of 26 hours of credit costs $26,000. It draws 4 students. Instead give the students 9 hours of credit and charge $17,000. Now you draw 10 students. $170,000K is more that $104,000 and marginal cost does not budge. In fact, credit transfer competition may just be heating up.

I know where this is going and I am ahead of the game. Mail your $1000 to me and you will receive your diploma (please indicate if you want a J.D. or and LLM) within a month.