Charlotte School of Law closed, But Department of Education Has Been Stingy in Granting Student-Loan Relief

Charlotte School of Law closed its doors on August 15, 2017. Thank God!

Before it shut down, CSL was one of the worst law schools in the United States by almost any measure. Based on metrics developed by Law School Transparency, a public interest law-school monitoring organization, 50 percent of CSL’s 2014 entering class ran an “extreme” risk of failing the bar exam, and additional 25 percent ran a “very high” risk of failing the exam.

And it fact, less than half of CSL’s 2015 graduating class passed the bar. Moreover, less than 25 percent of its 2016 graduates obtained full-time law jobs; and the law school’s underemployment rate for that class was 58.8 percent.

Do you want other measures of mediocrity? Not a single CSL graduate in the 2016 graduating class obtained a federal clerkship, which is the most prestigious job a newly graduated attorney can get. The best paying jobs are in large corporate firms; and only 1.5 percent of 2016 graduates landed jobs in large law firms.

And in spite of its monumental mediocrity, Charlotte School of Law–before it shut down–was incredibly expensive. Tuition for the 2017 entering class (had there been one) is $44,284 per year. Law School Transparency estimated the total cost of obtaining a law degree from CSL to be a quarter million dollars!

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The ABA put CSL on probation in 2016, and the Obama administration shut off student-loan money in December of last year. Still, the law school lumbered along until its state operating license expired and North Carolina regulators refused to extend it.

Most CSL students took out federal loans to finance their studies and few will be able to pay back their loans. Nevertheless, Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education has been stingy in granting loan forgiveness. Only students enrolled on April 12, 2017 or later are eligible to have their student loans forgiven under the closed-school rule.

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The Department also has a “borrower defense” process, whereby students can seek student-loan forgiveness if they can show they were defrauded by the institution they attended. More than 500 former CSL students have filed those claims, but DeVos put the borrower-defense regulations on hold. As of July 2016, DeVos’s DOE had not approved any borrower-defense claims.

What a mess!

In my mind, there is only one fair remedy for all the people who took out student loans to attend CSL and failed to get jobs that paid well enough to pay back their loans. Secretary DeVos should forgive student-loan debt for everyone who took out student loans to attend Charlotte School of Law.

But that would not be fair, DeVos might respond. After all, at least a few people graduated from CSL and got good law jobs. Yes, but not many. The administrative cost of sorting out who benefited and who failed to benefit doesn’t justify the effort.

Everyone who attended this crummy law school should get 100 percent debt relief. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. And there are several more bottom-tier law schools that are still operating and still raking in federal student-loan money.

Richard Fossey is a professor at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana. He received his law degree from the University of Texas and his doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is editor of Catholic Southwest, A Journal of History and Culture.
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