With the average law school graduate owing between $78,000 and $136,000, becoming a lawyer in America is cost prohibitive, even for upper income families. After adding the financial crisis and subsequent recession of 2008 to the mix, it is not surprising to see that the average law school enrollment fell off the cliff. Aiming to stem that tide, law schools rolled out all the stops post-recession by offering more financial aid and scholarships.
But a funny thing happened along the way. According to Diverse Issues In Higher Education, the website focused on college and university issues, a lot of the aid is coming in the form of merit-based scholarships which are benefiting well off students much more than their lower income counterparts. That’s because merit scholarships are based on a student’s LSAT score instead of need.
The LSAT is used as a predictor of how a student will do during the first year of law school. While some argue other test scores should be used to get into law school, the LSATs are still the main test that would-be law students have to take. Citing data from American Bar Association, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported that between 2004 and 2010 the focus of aid on the part of law schools was largely in the merit-based aid area and less on need-based scholarships and grants which meant fewer low income students were able to attend law school.
According to LSSSE’s new report on law school aid, the research arm of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, merit-based aid increased 68% at public law schools between 2004 and 2010 and 53% at private law schools. The majority of the merit-based aid going to white and Asian students.
What’s more, LSSSE found that law school bound students with the highest LSAT scores tended to be white or Asian while those with the lowest LSAT scores were African Americans and Latinos. This means African Americans and Latinos were shutout of the merit aid pool. The LSSSE argued in its report that while law schools predominately rely on the LSAT scores when dolling out merit-based aid, those scores aren’t a true indicator of how a student will perform in law school. Sure, law school is hard. And the LSAT is a strong indicator of performance, but the scores aren’t a guarantee. What’s more, the LSSSE argues that schools use the merit-based aid to entice high LSAT scorers in order to move up in the college rankings.
“The point of the game is to lure new students with credentials that would reflect well in the rankings away from competitors,” wrote Frank H. Wu, distinguished professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in the report. “American higher education has departed from need-based financial aid. The result has been a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ revenue model in which the poorest students are being forced to subsidize their wealthier peers.”
Author: Andrew Rombach
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