Higher education’s responsibility to young professionals-to-be

What do lawyers and scientists have in common? There are probably several answers, but the one on my mind is that there are too many of both, and universities are responsible.

Most of my work in professional ethics concerns science, research ethics, and the responsible conduct of research. I’ve read for years (most recently in June 2014) that there are more science graduates in the United States than available jobs. Some people say this is bad, some others think it’s a good thing, and some think it just isn’t true.

A short while ago I learned that law students are in a similar situation; a very recent piece in the New York Times (“Too many law students, too few legal jobs,” August 25, 2015) says the same about law schools. Of the many interesting tidbits offered by the author, Steven J. Harper, I’ll only quote two:

Students now amass law school loans averaging $127,000 for private schools and $88,000 for public ones. …

… 25 percent of law schools obtain at least 88 percent of their total revenues from tuition. The average for all law schools is 69 percent. So law schools have a powerful incentive to maintain or increase enrollment, even if the employment outcomes are dismal for their graduates, especially at marginal schools.

 An argument could be made that law students are responsible for their own choices – caveat emptor – and that an over-supply of lawyers is good because market forces will ensure that the best will be hired or establish their own practices and the worst will not. Tough for them, but good for the rest of us.

Now, I’m content to allow market forces to monkey around with commodities like clothing, automobiles, telephones, gardening tools, and so forth, but people? No.

Some years ago, someone (can’t remember who) opined that graduate schools should cover tuition, fees, books, housing, and a salary for every graduate student. This seems reasonable to me. If there are still too many lawyers, at least the graduates will have no or little debt and they’ll have a law degree, which isn’t nothing.

I think this is an ethical issue. Do you?

Ken Pimple
August 31, 2015
7:45pm EDT

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Ken Pimple

About Ken Pimple

I've been involved in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics before its actual creation. I am coordinating the international conversation on the future of practical and professional ethics for APPE, and organizing five workshops that will be held at Indiana University in Bloomington in academic year 2014-15.

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