Sunday, May 1, 2011

Law schools give merit scholarships to recruit students, then use rigid grading curves to rip them away -- just to increase school's US News Rank

Like a lot of other college seniors, Alexandra Leumer got her introduction to the heady and hazardous world of law school scholarships in the form of a letter bearing very good news. The Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco had admitted her, the letter stated, and it had awarded her a merit scholarship of $30,000 a year — enough to cover the full cost of tuition.

To keep her grant, all that Ms. Leumer had to do was maintain a grade-point average of 3.0 or above — a B or better. If she dipped below that number at the end of either the first or the second year, the letter explained, she would lose her scholarship for good. “I didn’t give it much thought,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be a challenge.”

Her grades and test scores were well above the median at Golden Gate, which then languished in the bottom 25% of the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings of law schools.

How hard could a 3.0 be? Really hard, it turned out. That might have been obvious if Golden Gate published a statistic that law schools are loath to share: the number of first-year students who lose their merit scholarships. That figure is not in the literature sent to prospective Golden Gate students or on its Web site.

But it’s a number worth knowing. At Golden Gate and other law schools nationwide, students are graded on a curve, which carefully rations the number of A’s and B’s, as well as C’s and D’s, awarded each semester. That all but ensures that a certain number of students — at Golden Gate, it could be in the realm of 70 students this year — will lose their scholarships and wind up paying full tuition in their second and third years.

Why would a school offer more scholarships than it planned to renew?

The short answer is this: to build the best class that money can buy, and with it, prestige. But these grant programs often succeed at the expense of students, who in many cases figure out the perils of the merit scholarship game far too late. (read more)

Education is no longer for human betterment -- it's just a business like everything else now.