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Editorial: Flexibility necessary for grad programs

For years, students have talked about the law school crisis. After an explosion of law students led to a massive oversupply, recent difficulties for law graduates in the job market have sharply depressed application numbers, causing five law schools to shut down in the last two years. It seems likely that reducing the number of law schools will have positive benefits for remaining law graduates, but students today are still burdened by expensive law school tuition. However, as the New York Times reported this week, Brooklyn Law School is taking an innovative approach to this problem. Through a combination of tuition cuts, reductions in merit pay and increased options for students to graduate early, Brooklyn Law is hoping to curb the increasingly exorbitant law school costs that burden graduates with large amounts of student debt.

As the costs of higher education continue to grow, graduate schools — particularly law schools — need to pursue these and other innovations in order to bring down costs for their student body. Similar strategies, such as creating three-year primary care tracks, are being considered in medical schools. This is necessary to maintain the health of graduate programs throughout the country, which have seen their numbers decline steadily in recent years as students wise up to the realities of high tuition and a contracting job market. This past year saw the first increase in graduate school enrollment in several years, but this rise was driven primarily by a greater number of international applicants.

If we’re to keep our own domestic students interested in professions that require a graduate degree, graduate schools need to follow in the vein of Brooklyn Law and find ways to make these graduate degrees — which come at the cost of several years and several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of income — worth more in the long run or less expensive to obtain in the first place. One way this could be accomplished is by more heavily connecting graduate programs with jobs or other paid opportunities in areas that are in high demand.

Another more practical way for law schools to remain cost-effective for students is to offer a wider array of degree programs, including shorter programs (not unlike a master’s degree) that would allow law students to obtain jobs in legal or law-related fields either before or without finishing the rest of their law degree. As technology becomes ever more capable of handling increasingly precise tasks, graduate programs need to adapt and train students for careers that are still in demand.

Graduate programs need regulation from their own governing bodies to ensure that students who enroll in programs with expensive tuition and opportunity costs can be reasonably certain of finding good jobs upon graduation. This may lead to fewer overall programs (suited to fit the needs of the job market), and more accelerated or distance-learning programs. This process starts with straightforward reporting of job-placement rates, with mechanisms that protect against nefarious practices such as hiring law school graduates to do simple paperwork to inflate these figures. True accounting of the realities of graduate programs may not be good for any individual program, which can always find another way to spend tuition dollars, but it is in the overall best interest of students. The moral hazard of graduate programs continuing to expand without regard for student interest has been underreported, but it has harmed students who were just trying to establish careers of their own.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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