As a senior member of a law firm and a member of the Tulane Law School Dean’s Council, I have become increasingly concerned with the rapidly rising cost of a college or graduate degree. Far too often, a law school student graduates with over $150,000 of debt and a 50 percent or less chance of landing a paying job, much less one that comes with a salary sufficient to timely repay the debt. These justifiably embittered and soon to be insolvent graduates are quick to devalue their law school education and blame the law school for facilitating their situation. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they believe they have been led down a yellow brick road, assured of fulfilling a dream only to have the dream shattered upon reaching the road’s end.
While I empathize with the graduate’s plight, I do not subscribe to the belief that a law school or other degree has lost its value. How else can one achieve the right to enter into hallowed and critical professions like law or medicine that are necessary to the survival of our democratic way of life? A high school degree cannot afford that opportunity.
Nevertheless, we must work to protect the value of these degrees and ensure that young students will continue to aspire to enter these professions. We can do this by better controlling the costs of a higher education and the amount of debt that students accumulate in getting their degrees. Other countries accomplish this by providing more financial assistance via scholarships to students in return for the promise to perform a year or two of community service. They also have fewer graduate schools, which means the job market is less flooded with applicants, thereby increasing the demand and likely increasing the compensation. More schools here, especially those with substantial endowments, similarly could provide more true financial assistance in return for a community service obligation. In addition, as has happened in the housing area, lending institutions must resist the urge to make loans to college and graduate students, thereby saddling them with debts they cannot repay. Finally, organizations like the American Bar Association, which accredit law schools, should resist the urge to encourage continued growth in the number of law schools and law students, especially marginal law schools that offer the hollow promise of a substantial income. The proliferation of such schools is a disservice.