In our letter, and an accompanying column in Above the Law we focused, in part, on Florida Coastal School of Law:
Infilaw should be transparent about communication with the U.S. Department of Education regarding Florida Coastal School of Law’s continued participation in the federal student loan program. The ED cited two independent reasons to deny CSL’s participation in the federal student loan program. First, the ED cited CSL’s non-compliance with the ABA standards. Second, the ED cited CSL’s “substantial misrepresentations regarding the nature of its academic program.” The ED based this finding, in part, on CSL’s failure to disclose until November 2016 that the ABA found the school non-compliant with the ABA standards in February 2016. If Coastal has received notice from the ABA about non-compliance, it has not disclosed it to date. That could provide a basis for the ED to take similar action against Coastal.
I also encouraged Florida Coastal to be more forthcoming about its compliance with regulatory standards in a January 6, 2017 post here on TFL.
On January 9, 2017, in an apparent response to these calls for greater transparency, Florida Coastal released a statement to its students and to some media outlets about an area of non-compliance with regulatory standards that it had not previously publicly disclosed, specifically, that the Department of Education has recently published the Gainful Employment (GE) results and Florida Coastal failed. If a school fails this test in two out of three years (or two years in a row), then it will lose access to Federal student loan funding from the Department of Education, so this is clearly information that both current and prospective Florida Coastal students are entitled to know. The results were publicly released on November 23, 2016, so Florida Coastal has known about the results for at least several weeks.
Florida Coastal Dean Scott DeVito sent me a gracious e-mail with a copy of the statement. His message stated, in part:
In an attempt to be completely transparent we are providing you, Above the Law, and the Florida Times Union, with a copy of the email I sent today to students, faculty, and staff at Coastal about GE.
I appreciate this effort at greater transparency and am working with LST to provide a specific and detailed response to Florida Coastal’s statement about the Gainful Employment (GE) standard. We hope to publish this response later this week. In the meantime, I will address another issue raised by Dean DeVito in his e-mail to me.
In response to my Faculty Lounge post in which I challenged an earlier statement by Dean DeVito that Florida Coastal had steadily raised its admission standards over the last three years, he provided some unofficial updates on Florida Coastal’s recent admissions.
I checked with our dean of admissions and our 25th percentile for 2016 fall cohort was 143. In addition, we are currently on track for a 25th percentile of 145 for the spring 2017 class, and we intend to have a 25th percentile of at least 147 in fall 2017.
These updated figures suggest that Florida Coastal is trying to make good on Dean DeVito’s pledge to substantially increase admissions standards, and is starting to follow the plan that I laid out for the school in April 2014.
I want to publicly commend Dean DeVito for moving admissions standards in the right direction. Not coincidentally, setting a 25% percentile LSAT at a minimum of 147 is exactly what I recommended for Florida schools in a column I wrote back in September, 2016
[I]n states with bar exams of comparable difficulty to Florida, a good rule of thumb would be that in order to maintain an acceptable bar pass rate, schools should not allow their median LSAT to drop below 149, or their 25% LSAT to drop below 147.
It remains to be seen whether this recent tightening of admissions standards will be enough to forestall regulatory action by the ABA and/or the DOE. The classes currently moving through Florida Coastal, from the part-time admits of 2013 to the admits of spring 2016, are among the weakest classes ever admitted to any law school. Very aggressive academic attrition (30% of the current 2L class flunked out or left voluntarily last year, a similar percentage of the current 3L class was subject to academic or “other” attrition over the last two years) has culled the herd substantially, but it is doubtful that this will significantly raise the bar passage rate above 2016 levels. And employment outcomes are still woefully inadequate.
Perhaps the one thing that might save Florida Coastal is a move that Dean DeVito’s letter indicates the school has been working on for some time, affiliating with a non-profit University:
Florida Coastal’s students would be better served by our becoming part of a non-profit, major university. And, for the last two years, we have been working to do so and are in continuing negotiations with potential future partners.
As Dean DeVito notes:
A side-effect of such a change would be that GE would, after a potential transition period, no longer apply to Florida Coastal.
Florida Coastal’s sister school, Arizona Summit, has also announced that it is trying to affiliate with a major university and Charlotte School of Law has been rumored to be trying to sell itself to UNC-Charlotte, with whom it offers a joint JD-MBA program, for some time. Florida Coastal has dual degree programs (JD-MBA and JD-MPP) with Jacksonville University, so that seems like an obvious candidate to take over Florida Coastal, but that is speculation on my part.
It seems that Sterling Partners has realized that the days of huge profits from InfiLaw are over, and they are looking to dump this investment and move on. In my view, these law schools, if they survive, will be much better off without them.