My favorite breakfast restaurant in Beachwood Canyon raised its prices recently. At first I was bummed, but then I thought about who really pays for the price increase. My usual breakfast was $7.85. I would usually leave $10, for a tip of $2.15. Now my bill comes to $8.25. But I still leave $10.
So I’m paying the same $10 before and after the increase. But the waitstaff is getting 40 cents less as a tip. On balance, the price increase isn’t a transfer from my pocket to the restaurant—it’s a transfer from the waitstaff to the restaurant.
I wonder if something similar goes on with tuition increases. Right now the Regents are contemplating raising UC fees another 10% or so. According to a recent email from the UCLA Graduate Students Association, “Since 2001, fees have increased 79% for undergrads, 84% for grads, and up to 131% for professional students.” I’m too lazy to check that assertion, but sounds roughly right. (UPDATE: Current fees and past fees.) (UPDATE 2: This week, they did approve a 10% fee increase for the professional schools for next year.)
Meanwhile, Dean Christopher Edley of Boalt is advocating for even bigger tuition hikes. Why does he want the money? To give Boalt the capital to move up in the U.S. News rankings, of course. According to Ben Allen, a Boalt student quoted in the article, “law students are very prestige-conscious, and when the dean talks about spending the money to put Boalt back in the top five, that resonates”. Of course, that particular student also is a member of the Regents, so maybe his view is a wee less than representative. (And we won’t tell him the bad news.)
Wait, there’s more. All of this happens against a backdrop of declining alumni participation in school fundraising. According to the Wall St Journal, fewer alumni are giving, and school fundraising has flatlined. Their chart:
Since U.S. News factors alumni participation into its rankings, this has led to schools (naturally) engaging in shenanigans to boost their apparent participation rates. For example: taking a student’s $25 donation in one year and treating it as 5 annual donations of $5. In a stroke of Enron-worthy accounting cleverness, this lets them count the student as five donations rather than one.
It all sort of makes me wonder whether tuition increases aren’t starting to be a little like the restaurant price increases—rather than raise revenue, they just move revenue from the future (alumni donations) to the present (student tuition). If tuition increases dampen the enthusiasm of students to give after graduation, how is that worth it?
The UC system is in a different position than, say, Harvard. The UC is part of the state government and is accountable to an annual budget. So short-term results are the priority. Whereas Harvard, deriving giant returns from its huge endowment, can afford to weather fluctuations in its year-to-year revenue and focus on maximizing alumni contributions in the long term (which it does with near-intravenous efficiency).
I had lunch with a UCLA professor & alumnus last semester who repeatedly asserted how important it was to give money after graduation. Throughout my college education, Harvard banged it into us how our tuition didn’t cover the true costs of our education and that we were expected to make it up down the line in the form of donations. (I’m pretty sure I haven’t, but the point was made.)
But something different seems to be going on these days. The UCs are a special case, but it seems like a lot of colleges and universities have used the mostly-good economy of the last 15 years as a basis to raise tuition faster than inflation. (Again, too lazy to give you a footnote.)
This has not gone unnoticed by students. I used to justify my donations to Harvard by saying “sure they have a lot of money, but they also make about 20% a year investing it. So they use it wisely.” But when they crossed the $1 zillion mark a couple years ago, I did start to wonder “gee, is my petty little donation going to make a difference? Maybe I should send it somewhere where it matters more.”
When I think about donating to UCLA, I’m ambivalent. Some part of me still clings to the same belief that the professor did—alumni donation is part of the ethical contract a student makes with an institution.
Another part of me feels like shit, Regents, you weren’t shy about bringing my tuition up a huge amount to cover your short-term deficits. You weren’t shy about sticking me with the bill from the Kashmiri case. Can you really say I got that much of a bargain?
So the ethical appeal for alumni fundraising—you got more than what you paid for—is less compelling than it used to be.
We move on to the altruistic appeal—give money to UCLA because it’s the best use of your charitable dollar. But if anything, the shenanigans of the last three years show that the UC system is no model of financial management.
For argument’s sake, I’ll accept that alumni have an ethical duty to support their schools with donations. But if that’s true, then schools also have an ethical duty to protect their students’ pocketbooks while they’re in school. I got a good legal education at UCLA. But the UC system didn’t quite hold up its end of the deal.
12 Mar 07
I only got one piece of advice before law school that ended up being worth a damn.
“Find the best professors ... and take their classes.”
Credit to Ben Wizner of the ACLU. Ben & I lived in the same dorm in college and I randomly ran into him at a party in LA shortly before going to UCLA. That was his advice. He was right.
(Confidential to everyone but Ben: your advice sucked.)
The reason this advice works is simple. First, a great professor will make you love their topic. Even if you thought you hated it before. Second, it doesn’t matter what classes you take in law school. So you might as well take the best ones.
The corollary to Ben’s advice is that you need to bypass the bar courses that you might be taking out of a sense of obligation. That is a terrible use of your time & your tuition dollar, unless the course happens to be taught by one of the A-list professors. You need to save your credits for the good shit. Leave the rest for Bar/Bri.
How do you find the best professors? That’s trickier than you think. I’ve investigated our teaching evaluations pretty thoroughly. Even professors I know to be miserable bastards get pretty decent reviews. Which shows that a) personal taste varies or b) a lot of people didn’t show up to class except for evaluation day.
What you’re looking for is two things. One is consistency. If everyone likes a prof, chances are you will too. If opinion is divided, that’s a risky proposition. Two is raves. Not just good reviews. You want insane reactions, e.g. people scrawling on their eval sheets in two-inch letters “BEST COURSE AT UCLA!!!” over and over again. I saw that a couple times. I took those courses.
Be careful though: great profs are not necessarily great in every class they teach. Make sure you are taking their “crown jewel”, the course they’re known for, not some random seminar that they concocted during a Robitussin-induced daydream.
Oh, and take Evidence. No, really. You need it.
16 Mar 07
To the 1Ls who are planning to do the law review write-on next week during spring break: if I reach just one of you with my message, it will all have been worthwhile.
Here are some reasons to drop out of the write-on. And it’s not too late. It’s never too late.
1) The odds are against you. Only a fraction of people doing the write-on can make it.
2) It’s horribly grueling and a waste of a perfectly good spring break. You deserve a spring break. Law review wants to take it away.
3) Despite the meritocratic spin (“with a write-on, everyone has a chance to shine!“) it’s still a crapshoot. There’s a bunch of 2Ls scoring these papers. Do you think there will be anything close to the grading consistency you get when one professor grades 80 exams? No way.
4) The odds are even more against you, since a certain number of slots are reserved for Double Secret Grade-On 1Ls, whose GPAs are so absurdly high that the school considers it morally abhorrent that they would be excluded by a write-on. So they’re in. You’re out.
5) No, I wasn’t on law review (though I did make it through the write-on). But some of my dearest friends in law school were. Not a single one has described it as enjoyable. And it’s hard to quit once you’re on.
6) Nor has any of those dear friends considered it to be a boost to their resume. Good grades are a boost. Having a personality is a boost. Not drooling at the interview is a boost. But law review is not a boost.
7) The odds are really against you with this new “Additional Essay”, where they’re looking for “diverse experiences” or whatever the hell it is. I’ll leave it to you to speculate who they’re hoping to assist with this Additional Essay. But chances are it’s not you.
8) But your lawyer mom said law review was prestigious and you must do it! The operative word here is “was”. The internet is killing law reviews, just as surely as it’s killing the music business. Don’t believe me? Read how “Judges Are Ignoring Law Review Articles”. Also consider this.
The gist is this: law review articles had a more useful purpose in life when they served as digests of caselaw on a particular topic. But now that everyone has Westlaw or Lexis, this isn’t much of a value proposition. Plus, the never-ending struggle between clueless acting professors and clueless student editors inexorably leads to longer, duller, dumber articles. Never have so few said so much about so little. Though many professors still pooh-pooh legal blogs, at least those have a readership.
9) I know you’re scared that if you don’t do law review, [insert name of fearsome authority figure] will smite you, because you’ve gotten an A in every class since 7th grade and you got a 178 LSAT and blah blah blah. But I can assure you that [fearsome authority figure] doesn’t care.
10) You think I’m lying about the longness and the dumbness, right. But have you ever read the UCLA L. Rev.? Any of it? I have.
11) Your time would be better spent figuring out how to make some money with your legal education. This school’s not getting any cheaper.
12) Most of the smartest people I’ve met at law school didn’t make law review. And they’re headed to the same $145K jobs as the people who did make law review.
13) Did I mention the odds are against you?
22 Mar 07
Epilogue 8: Buy my book
Epilogue 7: Recessionaires cont'd
Epilogue 6: Schill quits UCLA
Epilogue 5: recessionaires
Okay, I lied. Epilogue 4
Epilogue 3: The End (really)
Epilogue 2: Nov 2007
The eagle has landed
Seduced by the dark side
You've been in law school too long when...
I have only five more class days
The lone gunman
The last spring break is over
Someone saved your life tonight
Dean Schill & the Pussymobile
Help me yet again