Judges and juries across the country have been generally unsympathetic to claims filed by law school graduates with six-figure debts that the law school enticed them to attend by presenting doctored employment figures for its graduates.
It happens all the time: a college, grad school, professional school, for-profit college, or some other post-secondary education opportunity for students shows off its record of graduates from the school who have landed jobs. This is the kind of advertising that not only boosts rankings for the school, which brings student interest, but on its own also plays a role in the decision-making process used by prospective students. If a school can bring in more students, it stands to increase its tuition revenue, which is mostly not for profit, while students increase the likelihood they will build up debt.
One of the first cases ever filed about this practice closed today in San Diego. A jury rejected claims by a law graduate, Anna Alaburda, that the Thomas Jefferson School of Law was misleading in reporting that a higher percentage of graduates landed jobs after graduation than was actually the case, the New York Times reports.
The school included a count not only of graduates who were working after graduation as lawyers, which is how the advertising sounds when it comes from a law school, but also of those working as waitresses, sales clerks, and in other full- or part-time jobs not tied to their law degree.
What the law school did is neither illegal nor unethical, but the American Bar Association has been trying to get law schools to be more transparent about what jobs are included when they report the numbers. About 200 law schools are now breaking down their report to specify whether the jobs graduates get are full-time, part-time, and so on. But this jury’s decision gives schools an escape route.
“Today’s decision by the jury further validates our unwavering commitment to providing our students with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to excel as law students, pass the bar exam, and succeed in their professional careers,” the Times quoted Thomas Guernsey, the dean of Thomas Jefferson, as saying.
Law students should be able to judge for themselves what graduate employment numbers mean and what their prospects are for post-grad employment, independently of the school’s reporting. And this goes for prospective college students as well: education opens opportunities. It provides training and, most important, learning. What you do with that is up to you. But beware of any school that promotes itself by telling you how many graduates get jobs after attending the school. If it’s a cosmetology school, not all of the jobs included in the school’s accounting will necessarily be in cosmetology.
And you won’t win by suing the school for false advertising or something. The cases are almost universally dismissed or given very small rewards or settlements.