The Cautionary Tale of Charlotte Law School

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Danger! Danger!

Rumors of the demise of Charlotte Law School have not been grossly exaggerated. The school has been derided, sued, and, now, cut off from federal financial aid. Well, in reality, I should say the students are the ones who have been cut off from federal aid. Some might say that the government’s action needlessly targets the students, rather than the school, but I do not share that opinion. I, for one, am glad the government recognized the school’s failure to adhere to minimum standards for aid, and perhaps finally this will shutter a school that’s closure has been a long time coming.

The denial letter clearly made the case for denying federal aid — the school’s admission policies did not ensure that qualified students entered the school, and, in recent years, resulted in a very high attrition rate. The government should not provide access to federal aid for students who have no business attending law school in the first place. The student debt epidemic in our country is widely documented, and it is growing. If students choose not to incur a tremendous amount of debt because they won’t have access to federal funds, then I applaud the decision.

Moreover, I am a strong proponent of closing down underperforming law schools. The legal market is oversaturated, and yet few law schools have closed their doors. To the credit of some, certain schools have reduced the number of admission offers in order to maintain their standards, but this is not true across the board. If it takes external pressure to remedy the problems in our legal education system — or even, in some cases, to save students from their own rash decision to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt without any job prospects in the future — then it isn’t the worst thing in the world.

On the other side of the equation, however, there are a number of students at Charlotte Law School who now have no access to federal aid. While federal loans have lower interest rates, generally, there are still a number of private loans available to the students at CLS. It is not as though students who are unable to independently afford law school will now be unable to complete their education (although, perhaps, they should throw in the towel before it gets more costly). And, again at the risk of sounding harsh, I have little sympathy for students who chose to attend CLS after its widely reported decline and continuing issues.

As a general rule, I’d prefer the legal market correct its own issues and schools maintain accountability by putting the best interests of students over their bottom lines. But that is not happening, and there is no sign of it ever happening. As a result, in a fairly desperate situation like this, I am happy with the government’s choice to issue a strong message about the falling standards of a school like CLS. The collateral costs — while not insignificant — do not outweigh the need to address this situation.

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