COMMENTARY | Talk about a grievous misuse of tax and donor dollars: Multiple universities have begun creating nonprofits to hire unemployed graduates, likely to boost their own recent alumni employment statistics. The New York Times reports that Arizona State University, inspired by other schools, is creating a legal nonprofit to hire languishing ASU law school grads. Though law school dean Douglas J. Sylvester claims that the nonprofit is a “teaching hospital” for law grads, critics, including myself, look at the nonprofit as a way to boost employment stats and convince more undergrads to pursue law school.
A dozen other universities have similar programs, where law school graduates get trained under experienced attorneys and generate low-cost legal aid for the nonprofit clients. Sounds noble, right? To the clientele the situation is undoubtedly beneficial, but to the taxpayers the situation is anything but. Public universities will demand additional state dollars by creating these legal nonprofits. If the state does not help fund them with taxpayer dollars, the universities might raise tuition rates on all students. Likely, a combination of both will occur.
On paper the situation looks good — as soon as the university-sponsored legal nonprofit opens, law school alumni unemployment drops considerably, with many of the unemployed law grads getting offers to work at the nonprofit. The university gleefully prints out law school application brochures proudly proclaiming that a certain percentage of their graduates find gainful legal-sector employment within so many months of graduating. Unaware that these numbers are only due to the expensive new nonprofit that has subtly raised their tuition rates, many undergraduates eagerly apply to the law school, mistakenly thinking that the legal profession is back in demand. Three years later and burdened by debt, many of these misled former undergrads find themselves working for half pay at the law school’s legal aid nonprofit organization. Ironic, no?
While the legal nonprofits will certainly help law graduates gain skill and experience and will help poor clients receive quality legal services, they are bad news because they continue to perpetuate the growing higher education and college loan bubble. These nonprofits help “fudge” statistics to draw in more paying applicants and students, only pushing the crisis further down the road. At worst, they generate a Ponzi scheme whereby new graduates are employed and paid for by incoming freshmen — good for now, but unsustainable for long.