How to Con Black Law Students: A Case Study

By | March 20, 2017

This month, Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., announced an “affiliation” deal with Arizona Summit Law School, a for-profit institution in Phoenix. A joint scholarship program will send Bethune-Cookman students and students from other historically black colleges to the law school. Other programs, including intensive LSAT prep classes, have been announced as part of the deal.

Bethune-Cookman doesn’t have a law school, so it makes sense that it would want to partner with an accredited institution. But there’s a problem: Arizona Summit, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, may be accredited, but only 25 percent of its graduates passed the Arizona bar exam on their first try last year.

That’s an embarrassing result for any school. To compare, the law school at Arizona State posted a 77 percent pass rate for first-time test takers of the same bar. Statewide, 64 percent of first-time test takers passed. In other words, Arizona Summit’s results weren’t even in the ballpark of respectability.

Arizona Summit can’t blame the aptitude of its students for its low bar passage rate. The median LSAT score at Arizona Summit is 143, which is on the low end, but about the same as the median score at Florida A&M University College of Law. Still, over half of Florida A&M law school graduates passed the Florida bar last summer. And Florida A&M charges about $14,000 in yearly in-state tuition, a fraction of the cost of Arizona Summit, which charges about $45,000 in tuition and fees per year. That doesn’t include the cost for Bethune-Cookman students to move from Florida to Phoenix.

So why is this an appropriate affiliation deal? Edison Jackson, the president of Bethune-Cookman, said of Arizona Summit, “Together, we aim to be a leading force in disrupting a legacy of exclusion that has persisted into the 21st century.” Officials from both schools claim that their goal is to increase “diversity” in legal education.

But encouraging African-American students to attend Arizona Summit will not help them achieve their goals. It will hobble them. Going to a law school that doesn’t prepare most of its students to pass the bar is not an “opportunity,” unless “opportunity” means being saddled with debt that you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to pay back. (New York Times)

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