Critics have sometimes blamed the accreditation standards of the American Bar Association for driving up the cost of law school and making it more difficult for students of color to be admitted to those programs.
But a report released on Monday by the Government Accountability Office says that most law schools surveyed instead blamed competition for better rankings and a more hands-on approach to educating students for the increased price of a law degree. In addition, the federal watchdog agency reported that, over all, minorities are making up a larger share of law-school enrollments than in the past, although the percentage of African-American students in those programs is shrinking. The GAO attributed that decrease to lower undergraduate grade-point averages and scores on law-school admissions tests.
Law-school accreditation is technically voluntary but practically important: 19 states now require candidates to have a degree from an institution approved by the bar association to be eligible to take the bar examination. And a degree from an ABA-accredited institution makes a student eligible to take the bar exam in any state.
Law school prices are rising higher than comparable professional programs, and as is so often the case, U.S. News & World Report‘s rankings are partly to blame:
The reasons for the fast-rising costs are that law schools are providing courses and student-support programs that require more staff and faculty, the federal survey found. In addition, law schools spent more on faculty salaries and library resources, among other things, to boost their standing in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings, law-school officials told the GAO.
It’s good to have well-paid faculty and comprehensive libraries, of course, but not when it is merely to climb the rankings ladder, and when the cost is passed onto already overburdened students.