Reporter's Notebook

U of Denver's Law School Takes an Extra Step Toward Transparency for Its Graduate Employment Data


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Photo of Rachel M. Zahorsky by Marc Hauser.

There is no doubt the demands for increased law school transparency will continue to grow as universities are sued by aggrieved graduates, U.S. senators call for more data, and the ABA considers tough penalties for schools that report false statistics.

So when the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law reported that 96.6 percent of job-seeking 2011 grads were employed as of Feb. 15, 2012 (a 6 percent boost from 2010), dean Martin Katz asked an independent team of auditors to vet the school’s findings and attest to their reliability.

“If you’re legitimately proud of your placement numbers, … and you want to talk about those numbers and have people believe you, this is a great way to help bridge the credibility gap that law schools are facing,” says Katz of his 2010 decision to submit all career department data for its graduates to the university’s Office of Institutional Compliance & Internal Audit.

Although Katz says he’d pay for the services of an outside audit team, by using already established university resources the law school is able to provide transparent and accurate information without overtaxing its career services department or requesting additional funds or staff. The university reviewers also offer tips to increase efficiency and streamline ways to collect, organize and store employment information.

“More schools will do this, a lot more,” predicts Katz, who says smart schools will act sooner rather than holding out until the American Bar Association decides whether to require independent verification of employment statistics for accreditation purposes. “Until you have a bunch of auditors poring through your records, you really don’t know what they’ll look for and the specific questions they’ll ask.”

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Aside from the desire to be ahead of the curve, the practice sends an internal message to law school administrators and staff, Katz says, especially in the wake of situations like the scandal over fraudulent admissions data that hit the University of Illinois College of Law. A U of I admissions officer resigned in November after it was found he changed median grades and LSAT scores for six out of seven years.

As skepticism among law school alumni and current and prospective students grows (with application numbers dropping more than 15 percent on average in 2012), reliable data is more important than ever to the future of legal academics.

“While I believe that law schools try very hard to collect and report accurate employment data,” says Eric Bono, Sturm’s assistant dean for career opportunities, “there is no doubt that the general public perception right now is that schools aren’t as transparent as they should be. I think more schools will realize that everyone is under a microscope, and it’s better to be proactive and demonstrate that they’re trying to do what is right and report accurate data, even if independent audits are not yet required by the American Bar Association.”

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