Will Top Universities Close Law Schools?
There was an interesting post on the Law Deans blog yesterday comparing the current law school bubble to the dental school bubble in the 1980's.
From the blog:
"Law schools are not the first profession to suffer declining enrollments, and a changing profession. Dental schools experienced a similar decline over 2 decades ago. As a result of a shrinking job market, dental school applications dropped at an alarming rate. Accordingly, some universities decided to close their dental schools. A 1987 article in the New York Times reported:
Georgetown University's 86-year-old dental school has no first-year students this fall. Over the next three years the Washington school will be gradually shut down, unless students and faculty members win a lawsuit to block the move. Georgetown, formerly the nation's largest private dental school, decided to close after a Price Waterhouse study found that the school would have a $3.6 million deficit by 1992. In Atlanta, Emory University's dental school will be graduating its last class of dentists this spring, then converting itself into a postdoctoral and research institution… Many of the 57 other dental schools in the United States have cut back the size of their classes, unable to attract enough qualified applicants. According to the American Association of Dental Schools, applications have dropped by almost two-thirds since 1975. The academic quality of the applicants has declined, too. High Tuition and Debt And dental schools face other problems: Tuition that tops $15,000 a year at some private dental schools discourages many applicants, as does the fact that the average private dental school graduate has educational debts of $51,000."
The blog goes on to explain that these were dental programs at highly ranked institutions, and the institutions closed their dental schools because the schools were not attracting the type of students that the institutions wanted. The schools did not want the dental school students to "dumb down" the rest of the university.
The Law Deans blog is basically saying that the smart kids won't go after a law degree in this economic climate. And the prestigious schools will not want to admit less qualified students just to fill seats. Therefore, the university may just choose to shut down the law school program -- especially if the law school is running a deficit.
"The assumption seems to be that it will most likely be fourth-tier schools that will close, if law schools close. Based on what happened to dental schools in an almost identical atmosphere, I am not sure that assumption is correct."
It's a sad day when the legal profession loses some of the best and brightest. I think that there may be something to this hypothesis, however.