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Value

No Love from ASU Law School for Current or Future Students

This past week, Elie Mystal of Above the Law wrote a biting and brilliant article about Dean Berman’s announcement that he intended to make the law school at Arizona State University less reliant on state funding.  Berman’s plan went from intriguing to horrifying when he said that he planned to do this by increasing the size of the law school student body and increasing tuition.

Seriously?!?

Mystal was on the right path when he said Berman’s plan would result in more unemployed lawyers with mountains of debt.  What he doesn’t realize is that ASU is already passed the capacity of its current facilities.  Where are they going to put another 30 people?  Furthermore, job prospects for law graduates in Arizona currently suck in this economy.  Is it ethical to flood the market with lawyers who can’t get jobs?

ASU Sign (1)
Image by John M. Quick via Flickr

I can understand Berman’s desire to be less reliant to state funding.  I’m sure some of his plans were derailed when the state budget for education was slashed.  I understand and generally respect the concept that people should pay top dollar for quality products.  However, asking students at a public university to carry this burden is asking too much.  And pissing off future alums by robbing them blind won’t help the school’s fundraising efforts.

In the National Law Journal, Berman said, “We’re expanding the scope of legal education.”  Is he referring to the cubic buttload of clinics, journals, and programs that have been added to the school since he became the dean?  Being a student at ASU Law, it seems like a new program is added every 30 seconds.  It seems like every time someone mentions the idea of starting something new at the school, Berman approves it.  I’ve been wondering where the school was getting the money to pay for all this.  I don’t know where it was coming from but now we know who will be footing the bill in the future – the students!  If the students are paying for everything, the school shouldn’t be expanding.  It should be focusing on doing a few things well – like preparing students to be actual lawyers with real lawyering skills.

Now, I take my fair share of flack for dissing my school while I’m still a student.  I’m not saying everything about it is bad – there are some awesome people at the school.  But from an administrative perspective, the school doesn’t seem to care about its students.  The most glaring proof of this are the decisions that are made to impress and entice potential students, but have limited usefulness to current students.  Have you seen the new website?  How about the new fancy desks that aren’t big enough to comfortably accommodate a laptop?  Or the classroom configurations that are a pain in the ass to navigate?  How many students were consulted before these decisions were made?  One current professor said probably zero.  There’s a lot of flash and sparkle without much utility.

You know what bothers me the most about Berman’s plan?  At a recent town hall meeting, Berman said, “”I never would have come if I knew they were going to privatize the law school.”  I know he said this because, (1) I was there, and (2) I immediately tweeted that quote out to the universe.  (Isn’t technology a bitch?)  If the dean of my law school is a walking contradiction, I’m pissed about how this institution is treating its students and severely concerned for its future.

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Still Demanding the Maximum Value for my Tuition

Every time I think about how much I’m paying to go to law school, my head starts to hurt, my stomach gets queasy,and I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out.  Last semester, I paid over $9,800 in tuition and fees and I expected the full value for my money.  This fall, the cost just for tuition alone is $10,630 ($4,255 for graduate school tuition + $6,375 for law school tuition).  With the cost of law school tuition on the rise nationwide, every time the institutional powers that be raise my tuition, I in turn raise my expectations.  I had to do the math to see how much I’m paying for this semester’s experience.

This semester I am taking 16 credits of class – 5 regular classes and a 2-credit externship.  I am paying $664.375 per credit.  Here’s the break down for each of my classes.

Criminal Procedure, Copyright Law, and Cyberspace Law are 3 credits each.  They all meet twice a week for 85 minutes.  Each course is valued at $1993.125, $76.66 per class, or $0.90187 per minute.  The cost to attend one of these classes is more than the price to see Kathy Griffin live.

Trademark Law is a 3-credit class, but we only meet once a week for 175 minutes.  This class is valued at $1993.125 for the course, $142.37 per class, or $0.81352 per minute.  Going to this class once is more expensive than buying a lower level ticket on the 50-yard line at an Arizona Cardinals game.

Privacy is a 2-credit seminar class that meets once a week for 115 minutes.  Its value is $1328.75 for the course, $110.73 per class, or $0.9629 per minute.  Going to class is about what I pay for a pair of running shoes.  I have a friend who recently paid about this much to see Lady GaGa in concert and sit in the nosebleed section.

My externship is basically a class where I pay to work for a judge or agency.  To earn 2 credits, I have to work for 120 hours.  I’m paying $1328.75 for this experience or $11.06 per hour.  Working for them for an hour is more expensive than going to a movie.  This is my least expensive class from an hourly perspective, and it’s still a lot of ramen.

If I am paying this much to sit in a classroom, I expect the value of the experience to be equal to what I could be spending my money on instead of tuition.  Last semester, I wanted the academic equivalent of glitter, fanfare, and dancing girls.  This semester with the increase in tuition, I expect an even higher value.  I still want glitter, fanfare, and dancing girls, but this semester I want the academic equivalent of skydiving too.  I want to be so entertained and engaged by my professor’s stories and explanations that I forget that I’m in school, overworked, exhausted, and stressed.

Last semester I didn’t get the value of my tuition and I unsuccessfully demanded my money back.  As students, it’s frustrating that we don’t have much power over the classroom experience besides dropping a course when the professor or the class doesn’t meet our needs.  For the most part, I have been happy with my law school experience, but I will ask for my money back if I feel like I’m being ripped off.  When I demanded my money back from the law school, I was told that I had to seek compensation from the university.  I wonder how the president of the university would react if he received a demand letter.

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Summer School – Is it 65% better than regular school?

Recently I learned about ASU law school’s Tech Ventures Clinic.  It’s an awesome program where law students get to work with entrepreneurs who don’t have the capital to hire a lawyer to get legal assistance with their start-up companies.  As soon as I heard what this clinic did, I wanted to participate in it.  This is definitely an area of law where I think I would be successful working after law school.  The clinic is 6 credits and requires 20 hours of work each week.

Money Grab
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

I was planning on taking three classes during spring semester next year – Business Organizations, Tax, and Decedent’s Estates.  Ideally, I’d like to take no more than 12 credits total if I’m going to participate in a clinic.  I decided to look into taking one class over the summer to decrease my course load next year.

It was hard to find the tuition rates for summer school.  I started digging around on the law school’s website and stumbled onto the 2007 summer tuition rates.  In 2007, a 3-credit class cost $2,164.   That seemed to be a reasonable price.  I figured the price might have gone up a bit with the state’s budget crisis and inflation.  I requested the 2010 summer rates from the law school’s financial aid office.  I was shocked when I saw that the cost for a 3-credit class this summer is $3,499!  That’s a 62% increase!

I did the math.  Currently, I pay $705/credit.  If I went to summer school, I’d be paying $1166/credit.  That’s 65% higher.

I took my concerns to the law school.  They said that the cost is the same whether you’re taking a class for credit or  auditing it.  One higher up in the school said the cost has risen so much that they encourage students not to take summer school because the cost is so high.  It has become cost-prohibitive to go to summer school.

I want to give the school money this summer, but they’ve set the minimum so high that I can’t do it.  This is unfortunate because so many law firms and agencies don’t have the means to hire summer clerks.  For a lot of law students, going to summer school is one way to gain legal experience by doing an externship; however they have to pay for that experience.  I know multiple students who are looking for volunteer positions so they don’t have to pay to gain legal experience this summer.

The law school said there’s basically nothing they can do to help me in this situation.  I sent an email to Michael Crow, President of ASU, informing him about the alarming tuition rates this summer and asking him what advice he can offer to students who want to take advantage of all ASU can offer without spending an atrocious amount of money or going horribly into debt.  I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

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Demanding My Money Back

 

Underground entrance of Charles Trumbull Hayde...

Image via Wikipedia

I think I’ve established that I expect a high value for my tuition.  This past week, I got to confront the problem head on when a professor was very late to class.  He was apologetic and delivered a shortened version of his usually awesome lecture.  While I was waiting for him to arrive, I started calculating what his tardiness was costing me and I decided to do something about it.  I sent the dean of the law school a letter demanding my money back:

—-

Dear Dean Berman:

The College of Law has committed a substantial breach of our contract.  The letter is to inform you of the expected remedy.

On January 31, 2008, I received my acceptance letter to ASU Law School.  The school extended me the offer to pay tuition and fees in exchange for the opportunity to attend classes.  The terms of our agreement included adhering to the ABA’s rules of law students and the law school’s honor code, maintaining a minimal GPA, and making biannual payments to the school.  If I completed these requirements, I would be awarded a J.D. degree in May 2011.  I accepted your offer and have performed my requirements diligently since August 2008.

For spring semester 2010, the school continued our contract by allowing me to continue to take classes in exchange for $10,618.05 in tuition and fees.  Scholarships paid $750 of my financial obligation, leaving me with the $9868.05 balance, which I paid on January 14, 2010 with an electronic check.  This check pre-paid for the classes I am currently taking.

I am registered for 14 credits this semester, which translates to $704.85 per credit.  My three-credit Intellectual Property course that is scheduled to meet 26 times during the semester, for 85 minutes per session has a value of $2114.58 for the course, $81.33 per class session, or 95.7 cents per minute. 

Paying $81 for an 85-minute lecture is a significant amount of money, and I demand a high value for my money.  Professor Douglas Sylvester teaches Intellectual Property and usually delivers an $81 value in each class with his dynamic style.  However, on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, he was 37 minutes late for class.  I appreciated his apology for his tardiness, but this does not negate the fact that ASU Law School did not fulfill its obligation to me that day.  Therefore, I am entitled to recoup $35.40 of my spring semester payment….

Sincerely,
Ruth Carter, LPC
Class of 2011

—-

I thought it was hilarious to demand my money back.  Thirty-five dollars isn’t much to some people, but that’s months’ worth of ramen to a college kid. 

I was a little surprised when I got a call from Berman yesterday wanting to talk about my letter.  He basically took my fun away and said I could either (1) have a 37-minute tutorial with Sylvester or (2) file a law suit against ASU, but I wasn’t getting my money back because “it doesn’t work that way.” 

Even though things didn’t work out the way I hoped, I followed my rule: You can’t bitch about something unless you’re willing to do something about it. 

Mission accomplished.

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Demanding the Maximum Value for my Tuition Buck

Quality and value are important to me.  I want the maximum value for my money and I don’t mind paying extra for high quality products and services.  One of the annoying things about being a law student is that every semester, I have to pay tuition twice.  I have graduate school tuition and law school tuition, plus annoying fees like a $255 “Economic Recovery Surcharge.”  In the words of my classmate, “We’re being ripped off.”

I paid over $9800 in tuition and fees for spring semester this week.  That’s what I owed after my scholarships kicked in.  I know my in-state tuition is nothing compared to what Ivy League students pay, but it’s still a lot of ramen. 

 I am taking 14 credits this semester.  I did the math; my tuition breaks down to $705/credit.  Therefore, my 3-credit Intellectual Property course is costing me $2115 for the semester.  If we meet twice a week for the 15-week term, that’s ~$81 for each 85-minute class, or just under $1/minute.

 I wonder if the professors realize what we’re, or at least what I’m expecting in return for my tuition.

Rockettes
Image by skvidal via Flickr

 I don’t go to a lot of shows and concerts because I don’t think I’ll get my money’s worth.  When someone buys a cheap seat for a show, the experience often costs less than $1/minute.  So I want show quality performances from my professors…every day.  I want my money’s worth.

 If I’m paying enough for a show quality presentation, I want a dynamic professor who uses a teaching style that’s compatible with my learning style.  I don’t doubt that law school professors enjoy teaching.  Unfortunately some of them are boring and teach by standing in front of the class and reading the textbook to us.  I’ve already paid $100+ for the book.  I can stay home and read for free.  The solution to boring professors in college is not taking their classes.  My school, and probably many others, only has one professor for certain subjects.  Therefore, if I take those classes, I’m literally paying $1000s to teach myself with minimal additional guidance.

 What I want are professors who are competent, enthusiastic, and entertaining.  Sesame Street had it right when they decided to teach children with songs and puppets.  I want the law school equivalent of singing, dancing, and glitter in every class.       

 I have a personal rule that I can’t bitch about a problem unless I’m willing to do something to resolve it.  I’m not sure what the solution is for professor-student cross-mojination.  Until I figure out the answer, I’m going to continue to show up prepared for class, emailing the professor when I have questions; but in return, I expect to get the full value of every penny I’m paying for this educational experience.

 I’m lucky.  I have in-state tuition.  If I expect glitter, I can’t image what value an out-of-state student should be demanding.