LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Scholarships and the Law School Experience (Part 5)

This is the fifth installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report  highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we examine how scholarship recipients and non-recipients rate their stress levels and overall satisfaction with law school.

Law students tend to have favorable perceptions of their law school experiences. Eighty-five percent of LSSSE respondents rated their law school experiences “good” or “excellent.” Receipt of a scholarship was associated with even higher satisfaction. Eighty-eight percent of respondents who received merit scholarships rated their experiences favorably, compared to 81% of respondents who did not receive merit scholarships. Similar trends persisted across racial and socioeconomic classifications, with the most intense effects being among black and Latino respondents.

5-1 Scholarship Overall Satisfaction

 

A subset of 2,256 respondents were surveyed about the extent and nature of law school-related stress they experienced. Among this group, the receipt of a merit scholarship was associated with stress levels. Fifty-one percent of respondents who received merit scholarships reported high levels of law school stress, compared to 56% of respondents with no merit scholarships.

5-2 Scholarship Stress Perception


LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Scholarships and Debt (Part 4)

This is the fourth installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we look at the expected student loan debts among merit- and need-based scholarship recipients.

The distribution of law school scholarships has vast implications for student debt trends. The more a student receives in scholarship aid, the less likely it is that they will have to rely on loans to fund their studies. Among 2016 LSSSE respondents, students expecting higher law school debts were less likely to have received merit scholarships. Respondents expecting more than $200,000 in debt were only about half as likely to have received a merit scholarship as those expecting $80,000 or less. At each interval above $40,000 in expected debt, chances of having received a merit scholarship declined.

4-1 Most Debt Merit

Conversely, respondents expecting higher law school debts were more likely to have received need-based scholarships. However, the relative rarity of those awards limits their impact.

4-2 Most Debt Need

In our next and final post in this series, we will show how receipt of a scholarship relates to self-reported stress levels and overall satisfaction with law school.


Diversity Within Diversity: The Student Experience (Part 3)

This final installment based on the Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students, highlights findings related to the law student experience.

LSSSE asks respondents about how they spend their time, in the context of their studies and beyond. Employment can be a very useful part of the law school experience if it has relevance to the practice or study of law. Some employment, however, is motivated by necessity, and not necessarily a desire to foster one’s professional development. LSSSE respondents are asked to stipulate whether employment is law related or non-law-related.

Among the six subgroups, Vietnamese respondents were most likely to report being employed, with the disproportions being particularly apparent in non-law-related jobs. They were also most likely to report working eight or more hours per week in either setting. The relatively high proportions of employment, particularly in non-law-related jobs, raises questions about the role of financial pressures among Vietnamese law students.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 13b

Vietnamese respondents were also most likely to report spending time providing care to dependents residing in the same household, with Vietnamese and Japanese respondents reporting the largest time commitment. Vietnamese respondents were least likely to report feeling as if their law school helped them cope with their nonacademic responsibilities.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 16

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 17

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asian respondents overwhelmingly reported favorable relationships within their law school, but Vietnamese respondents were noticeably more likely to state that other students were “unfriendly and unsupportive.” Korean respondents had the least favorable perceptions of their professors, with less than half harboring the most intensely positive feelings.

Vietnamese respondents were least likely to report feeling as if they were acquiring a broad legal education, with one-in-5 expressing an unfavorable perception. In that vein, almost one-quarter rated their law school experiences fair or poor, again the highest proportion. Interestingly, given these perceptions, 86% of Vietnamese respondents stated that they would probably or definitely attend the same law school again, if given the benefit of hindsight. Only Japanese respondents had a higher proportion expressing this ostensibly favorable assessment. On the other hand, Korean respondents were least likely to state that they would attend the same law school again, with 1-in-4 stating expressing regret.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 22

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The experiences of Asian subgroups within the LSSSE pool varied, belying the prevailing assumptions about the Asian monolith. Their backgrounds, informed in large part by immigration patterns, differed markedly. There were vast disparities in expected law school debt. There were differences in how they spent their time, and how they perceived the law school experience. In the end, the distinctive aspects of each group manifested. As law schools work to ensure that their programs benefit all students, the experiences of subgroups within our broad classifications (racial/ethnic and others) should also be considered.

(Photo courtesy of Southwestern Law School)

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Diversity Within Diversity: Scholarships and Student Loan Debt (Part 2)

This second installment based on the Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students, highlights findings related to scholarships and student loan debt.

Scholarships

Given the outsized role that the LSAT plays in determining who goes to law school, where they go, and how much they pay, the trends suggest that Filipino and Vietnamese applicants are much less likely to gain admission and less likely to receive lucrative scholarships, even if they receive an admission offer. As explained in the LSSSE report, Law School Scholarship Policies: Engines of Inequity, the overall trends routinely highlight a strong link between LSAT score and receipt of so-called merit scholarships.

But those linkages were not observed as strongly among the Asian subgroups. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Vietnamese respondents reported receiving merit scholarships, the highest proportion, along with Japanese respondents. LSAT score differences suggest that Chinese respondents would have received these scholarships in the highest proportions; but their rate of 57% was tied with Filipino respondents.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 9LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 10

International students are sometimes ineligible to receive merit scholarships awarded by law schools. But immigrant status does not explain why receipt of merit scholarships (from all sources) among Chinese respondents seemed depressed. Chinese immigrants were only slightly less likely to report having received a merit scholarship of some type than Chinese Americans – 55% vs. 56%. For many reasons, the LSAT score should not be the primary determinant of who gets a merit scholarship; but it commonly is. Therefore, the trends among Asian respondents are somewhat of a riddle.

The need-based scholarship awarding trends took a more predictable track, with Filipino respondents (27%) mostly likely to have received this aid, followed by Vietnamese respondents (23%). Chinese respondents (13%) were least likely to report receiving this aid, a possible artifact of the high proportion of international students.

Student Loan Debt

The LSSSE Survey asks respondents to estimate the amount of debt they expect to incur from law school. Half of Chinese respondents expected no law school debt – the highest proportion. Once again, this trend can be explained by the high proportion of international students among the Chinese subgroup. International students do not qualify for U.S. government student loans and, therefore, are much less likely to report expecting student loan debt.

Among Chinese and Indian respondents, international students were more than twice as likely to expect no student loan debt than domestic students. Less than 10% of Filipino and Vietnamese respondents expected to leave law school debt-free. Half of Filipinos expected to owe more than $120,000, compared to 15% of Chinese respondents.

And at the highest end of the spectrum, Filipinos were about seven times as likely to expect more than $200,000 in law school debt than Chinese respondents, 14% to 2%.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 11

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 12

 

 

 

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Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a series based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the LSSSE Report, Diversity Within Diversity: The Varied Experiences Of Asian And Asian American Law Students.

LSSSE-Diverstiy Within Diversity-Figure 2

In 2016, LSSSE, for the first time, asked respondents identifying as Asian or Hispanic/Latino to also identify an ethnic subgroup. This report presents various disaggregated data for the Asian subgroups.

The data presented in this Report comes from the LSSSE Survey responses of more than 16,000 students at 67 U.S. law schools. A total of 1,147 LSSSE respondents identified as Asian, comprising 7% of the LSSSE pool – and about 1-in-7 of all Asian law students in the United States.

Chinese respondents were the largest Asian subgroup (23%), followed by Koreans (19%) and Indians (18%). There were six subgroups that comprised at least 5% of the pool of Asian respondents.

Comprising 81% of all Asian respondents, this report will center on these six groups. About 6% of respondents identified with multiple Asian subgroups or with an Asian subgroup and another race; their data is excluded from the subgroup analyses, as are data for respondents who identified with groups comprising less than 5% of the pool. The data presented in this report provide a glimpse into the experiences of these law students over the course of one school year.

LSSSE-Diversity Within Diverstiy-Figure 6

 

Socioeconomic background

Socioeconomics loom large in the ascent to law school, and law students tend to be a relatively affluent group. The LSSSE Survey attempts to get a sense of the socioeconomic backgrounds of respondents by asking about the education levels of their parents. Researchers often use parental education as a proxy for socioeconomic status. The linkages between higher education and income dictate that students with college-educated parents tend to come from more affluent backgrounds. Respondents with at least one parent possessing a BA/BS or higher comprised more than 75% of each subgroup, with one glaring exception: Vietnamese respondents.

Only 41% of Vietnamese respondents had at least one parent with a BA/BS or higher. Put the other way, about 6-in-10 Vietnamese respondents were among the first-generation in their family to graduate from college. These trends align with the overall educational attainment figures cited earlier, and can be explained in large part by different immigration histories and patterns among groups.

Immigrant Status

Half of Chinese respondents reported being international students. This was the highest proportion by far; the second-highest being among Indian respondents (24%). The lowest proportion (1%) was among Filipino respondents.


LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Socioeconomic Background and Economic Inequity (Part 3)

This is the third installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt.

Equity is often assumed to be the same as equality, but they are different. Equity accounts for differences in ways that equality does not. In fact, the insensitivity of equality-based frameworks can exacerbate inequity through a dichotomous compounding of privilege and disadvantage. Merit scholarship programs provide a classic example of this phenomenon. Merit scholarships tend to be awarded through equality frameworks, in which similar criteria are applied to all applicants. These criteria most often revolve around standardized test scores and other factors that track closely to non-merit indicators, such as socioeconomic status. In the end, wealth and privilege become proxies for merit, a conflation that results in financial windfalls and further advantages for applicants least in need of such assistance.

We used parental education as a proxy for a respondent’s socioeconomic background in order to compare debt and scholarship trends. Framing socioeconomic background based on parental education is common in the research literature and is rooted in the fact that children of college-educated parents are more likely than other children to come from relatively affluent backgrounds. We classified our respondents into three parental education groupings:

FG-HS: “first-generation” respondents for whom neither parent has more than a high school diploma

FG-SC: “first-generation” respondents for whom at least one parent has some college experience, but no bachelor’s degree

N-FG: “non-first-generation” respondents for whom at least one parent has a bachelor’s degree or higher

The debt burden is highest among respondents for whom neither parent has more than a high school diploma. Almost half of these “first-generation” respondents (FG-HS) expected to owe more than $100,000, compared to 34% to non-first-generation (N-FG) respondents.first gen debt 1

In our sample, N-FG respondents – presumably the most privileged group – were most likely to have received a merit scholarship; FG-HS respondents – the least privileged – were least likely. Like the disparities in scholarship awards among participants with different racial and ethnic backgrounds (see previous post), the disparities among students with differing parental education levels align with LSAT score trends. Forty-three percent of FG-HS respondents had LSAT scores below 151, compared to about a quarter of N-FG respondents. At the other end, 22% of N-FG respondents scored at 160 or higher, compared to just 10% of FG-HS respondents

lsat dist by par ed

The question is often posed: Why shouldn’t the LSAT be a primary criterion for determining who gains admission to law school and who receives scholarships? The most basic answer to this question is that the LSAT is designed to be a predictor of first-year law school performance and, in fact, explains roughly 38% of the variance in first-year law school grades. But the LSAT is even less reliable in predicting longer-term outcomes, such as bar exam performance and career success. Despite these limitations, the LSAT remains a central factor in most admissions and scholarship awarding decisions. It is an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth that a large number of admissions and merit scholarship decisions are rooted in a fundamental misuse of the LSAT. The heavy reliance on LSAT scores to award scholarship money exacerbates disadvantages based on privilege by distributing resources inequitably. Equity requires that we encourage the success of all our students by appreciating their differences and meeting their needs to the extent possible.

In our next post in this series, we will show some interesting associations between the type of scholarship students receive and their expected student loan debt levels.

 


LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Race, Ethnicity, and Economic Inequity (Part 2)

This is the second installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we examine whether the financial costs of a legal education reinforce or mitigate larger societal inequities based on race and ethnicity.

Equity is important given the risks involved with attending law school. If scholarships are awarded to students with the most financial need, these students could attend law school with less financial stress and less reliance on student loans. The aid would, in turn, minimize risks among students for whom law school is already riskiest. Unfortunately, based on the LSSSE Survey data, law school scholarships flow most generously to students with the least financial need and least generously to those with the most need.

The income and wealth inequalities that plague our society foster vast disparities in student loan debt among people with similar levels of education. According to the Brookings Institution, “black college graduates owe $7,400 more [in student debt] on average than their white peers.”  Four years after graduation, this gap balloons to $25,000, due to differences in interest accrual and graduate school borrowing. LSSSE data align with these findings. Fifty-three percent of black respondents and 57% of Latino respondents expected to owe more than $100,000 in law school debt upon graduation, compared to 38% of white and 40% of Asian respondents. As the Brookings data illustrate, higher interest accrual on higher debts will likely exacerbate these already yawning disparities over time.

debt1

The close correspondence between LSAT scores and merit scholarships fostered racial and socioeconomic disparities. White and Asian respondents were most likely to have received a merit scholarship. Black and Latino respondents were least likely.

debt2

The underlying reason for this disparity is that LSAT scores among blacks and Latinos tend to be lower than those of whites and Asians. In the LSSSE sample, 63% of black respondents and 46% of Latino respondents had LSAT scores below the rough national median of 151. Only about a quarter of white and Asian respondents had scores below 151. At the other end of the distribution, where scholarship money flows most abundantly, 22% of white and Asian respondents scored above 160, while only 4% of black and 9% of Latino respondents scored at that level.

debt3

In our next post, we will highlight some differences in scholarship and debt patterns among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and expand on why heavy reliance on LSAT scores to allocate scholarship funding may be deeply problematic for those who value equity in education.


LSSSE Annual Results 2016: Types of Scholarship Awards (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a series of five posts based on data from the 2016 LSSSE survey administration and the 2016 Annual Report. The LSSSE 2016 Annual Report highlights inequities in scholarship policies and the associated consequences for student loan debt. In this post, we summarize the overall prevalence of merit-based and need-based scholarships reported by LSSSE respondents.

The cost of legal education is a topic of considerable interest. Discussions tend to revolve around ever-rising tuition sticker prices. The truth, however, is that relatively few students actually pay sticker price for their legal education. The downturn in law school applications and enrollments has prompted schools to rely more heavily on tuition discounts – mainly, scholarships – as a means of attracting students. Over 70% of the law students surveyed by LSSSE in 2016 reported having received scholarships for their studies – a proportion that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By forcing schools to be more generous in awarding scholarships, the decreased demand for legal education has been a bright spot for many students.

Merit scholarship funding makes up the bulk of law school scholarship budgets.  American Bar Association data show a vast expansion of merit scholarship funding between 2005 and 2010, and while more current data are limited, all indications are that this trend has continued and likely intensified since that time. Need-based funding, on the other hand, has remained essentially flat. Funding for so-called “need-plus” scholarships increased markedly. These awards are, in theory, need/merit hybrids. Nevertheless, indirect trends suggest these scholarships have little equitable impact, operating as merit scholarships by another name.

Among those respondents who reported receiving a scholarship, 79% of the scholarships were merit-based. Only 21% of the scholarships were need-based. Although the LSSSE data does not capture the dollar amounts of these scholarships, it is clear that law school scholarship policies heavily emphasize merit without regard for differences among students based on background or economic need.

1-1 Scholarship Types

Among those respondents who reported receiving a scholarship, 79% of the scholarships were merit-based. Only 21% of the scholarships were need-based. Although the LSSSE data does not capture the dollar amounts of these scholarships, it is clear that law school scholarship policies heavily emphasize merit without regard for differences among students based on background or economic need.

1-2 Merit Scholarship Percent

In our next two posts, we will discuss some general differences in student demographics between recipients of merit- and need-based scholarships.

 

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Law Student Employment Expectations and Law Student Debt

Given the relationship between employment and the ability to make student loan payments, we were curious of any associations between expected debt and expected employment setting.  As a general proposition, jobs in large law firms tend to pay more than jobs in government and non-profit and in small firm or solo practice.  Therefore, job expectations, which are by no means perfect predictors of jobs opportunities, could nonetheless have implications on the ability of students to manage their debt.

In 2011 and 2015, respondents who expected more than $80,000 in debt were least likely to expect to work in large law firms—the highest paying sector.  Conversely, respondents who expected no debt or less than $40,000 in debt were most likely to expect large law firm jobs.   Expectations of jobs in government and non-profit sectors were more balanced, but respondents expecting no debt were noticeably less likely to expect to work in these sectors.  No definitive conclusions can be drawn from these trends alone.  But they provide useful insights into student expectations and possibly can help portend job trends.  [i]

[i]. Employment Expectations by Expected Debt Level

2006

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 27% 19% 22% 15% 3%
$1-$40K 30% 18% 22% 16% 2%
$40,001-$80K 31% 15% 23% 17% 2%
$80,001-$120K 29% 15% 25% 19% 2%
> $120K 28% 19% 25% 17% 2%

 

2011

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 28% 15% 18% 17% 3%
$1-$40K 33% 13% 19% 17% 2%
$40,001-$80K 34% 11% 20% 18% 3%
$80,001-$120K 35% 9% 19% 18% 3%
> $120K 35% 9% 17% 19% 3%

 

2015

Gov’t/Non-profit Firm-Large Firm-Medium Firm-Small Solo
0 29% 17% 20% 16% 3%
$1-$40K 34% 15% 18% 17% 4%
$40,001-$80K 35% 12% 18% 18% 4%
$80,001-$120K 34% 10% 19% 20% 4%
> $120K 35% 12% 17% 19% 5%

 

 


Law Student Employment Expectations--Before and After the Great Recession

Employment aspirations can influence different aspects of a student’s law school experience and, therefore, can influence student engagement and satisfaction.  Students often select courses and co-curricular activities based on the type of job or area of law in which they aspire to work after graduation.  The following question on the LSSSE Survey asks respondents about their employment aspirations and expectations:

Which setting(s) best describe(s) (1) your PREFERRED work environment, and (2) your EXPECTED work environment once you graduate from law school?   (Mark only one in each column.)

The question captures both aspirations (“preferred”) and realities (“expected”)—important perspectives, both on their own and relative to each other.  The analyses below will focus on responses to the expected work environment aspect of the question.

In answering the question, respondents are given fifteen specific settings from which to choose (and one open-ended choice, labeled “Other”).  The specific choices capture major work settings in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.  In analyzing the responses for this Report, we tracked trends using the following categories:

  • Private firm – large (more than 50 attorneys)
  • Private firm – medium (10-50 attorneys)
  • Private firm – small (fewer than 10 attorneys)
  • Solo practice
  • Public/Non-profit sectors:
    • Academic (professor, education agency)
    • Government agency
    • Judicial clerkship
    • Legislative office
    • Military
    • Prosecutor’s office
    • Public defender’s office
    • Public interest group

The “Public/Non-profit sectors” category is one we constructed using responses from eight specific choices that appear on the survey.  Each of these choices falls in either the public or non-profit sector, and they encompass the traditional practice of law as well as “non-traditional” careers.  Some of the choices elicited few responses.  For example, only about 1% of respondents in 2015 expected to work in academic, legislative, or military settings.  “Government agency” was the most common expectation within the constructed category, accounting for about 30% of those responses.

The private firm and solo practice categories appear on the survey in the form they are listed above; therefore, the data below reflect the proportions of respondents who identified either as the setting in which they expected to work.  Each of these settings resides within the private sector; but they are very different in terms of size, scope, and the types of students who tend to expect to work in these settings.  A student who expects to work in a large law firm is probably different from a student who expects to work in a small firm or solo practice.  These differences encompass a range of student characteristics, including, notably, race and ethnicity (white and Asian respondents are more likely to expect to work in large law firms).

Over the three survey years, employment expectations among LSSSE respondents seem to align with larger trends.  The proportion of respondents who expected to work in large law firms declined from 17% in 2006 to 12% in 2015.  Similarly, proportions relating to medium-size firm declined from 24% in 2006 to 18% in 2015.  These trends align, albeit roughly, with the declines in law firm hiring in the aftermath of the Great Recession.  Proportions of respondents who expected to work in solo practice were small in each survey year; but interestingly, the proportion doubled between 2006 and 2015—from 2% to 4%.[i]

Expectations relating to small law firm employment were stable—17% in 2006 and 18% in both 2011 and 2015.  Expectations of employment within the public/non-profit sectors increased from 29% in 2006 and 34% in 2011 and 2015.   It is difficult to identify the factors underlying the latter trend.  Declines in job expectations in medium and large law firms likely explain at least part of the increase.  Broader awareness of income-based student loan repayment programs, particularly the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, may be contributing as well.

[i].

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