Legal Education

ABA committee seeks more detailed data on law school attrition

  • Print

Law schools would be required to provide more detailed information about attrition rates for admitted students under a proposed change in the reporting requirements being requested by an ABA committee.

Currently, law schools are required to disclose on their annual information reports the overall number and percentage of admitted students from each class in the previous academic year who flunked out, transferred to another school or left for non-academic reasons.

Under a resolution approved Saturday by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s Standards Review Committee, law schools would be required to break those numbers down based on the admitted students’ LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages.

The committee says more detailed data reporting is necessary to promote greater transparency and provide greater consumer protection for law school applicants. It would also assist the Accreditation Committee and the section’s governing council in assessing whether a school is operating in compliance with the accreditation standards.

Committee member Peter Joy, who drafted the proposed resolution, said the way attrition data is currently reported, while accurate, can be misleading, particularly to an applicant with weak academic credentials, who may not realize that the academic attrition rate for similarly situated students may be much higher than the school’s reported rate overall.

“The way attrition is now reported is not fully informing the applicant … and distorts reality,” said Joy, a professor and director of the criminal justice clinic at Washington University School of Law.

Moreover, the current annual questionnaire instructs schools not to count as having flunked out a student who is on track to fail who voluntarily withdraws, Joy said, raising the possibility that a school might counsel a failing student to drop out in order to reduce the attrition rate it reports.

The resolution, which passed unanimously with little discussion or debate, asks the council to direct the section’s Data Policy & Collection Committee to require the more detailed data reporting it recommends and to consider whether schools should also be instructed to change the way they account for failing students who drop out prior to being dismissed.

The committee, which met Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C., devoted a good deal of its time hearing from a variety of invited speakers in what Committee Chair Scott Pagel referred to as “informational sessions” on two matters the council had asked it to take up. One is a provision in the standards requiring law schools to “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to diversity and inclusion” in student admissions, faculty and staff, which refers specifically to “gender, race and ethnicity,” but which several groups, including the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, want to expand to include disability, sexual orientation and gender identify.

The other is a provision in the standards prohibiting a law school from granting academic credit to a student for participating in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation. The ABA Law Student Division wants to lift the ban so that debt-saddled students will have more opportunities for paid work. But others, including the Clinical Legal Education Association, contend that the ban is necessary to ensure that the educational purposes of the placement remain paramount.

The committee also agreed to hold another informational session at its next meeting in May on the current bar pass standard, which it had tried but failed to improve upon after several aborted attempts during its comprehensive review of the standards.

Pagel, a professor and director of the law library at George Washington University Law School, said the newly reconstituted committee, which has since added several new members, plans to go back to square one.

“We want to start fresh with a clean slate,” he said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.