Every student who starts law school graduates, transfers, or attrites. While attrition can be either voluntary or compulsory, the ABA treats non-transfer attrition the same for data transparency and accreditation purposes. For decades, the ABA has prohibited predatory admissions practices through the accreditation standards. The standards (currently Standard 501) require law schools to only enroll students who appear capable of completing school and gaining admission to the bar (which includes passing the bar exam). Enforcement of this standard is relatively new in part because drawing an objective line is challenging. But in 2017, the ABA added an additional enforcement layer to the text of the standard. Any law school with a cumulative non-transfer attrition of 20% or more is presumptively not compliant with Standard 501.
Consequence The ABA has started cracking down on law schools for predatory admissions practices.
Standard 501 Compliance
Based on students who entered in 2016, 15 schools are presumptively not compliant with Standard 501 based on 1L attrition alone. These schools must rebutt the presumption that their admissions and retention policies meet Standard 501.
Liberty University (20.3%), Southwestern Law School (24.8%), University of San Francisco (20%), Widener University - Pennsylvania (32.7%), Golden Gate University (30.5%), California Western School of Law (24.4%), Western State University (22.4%), Lincoln Memorial University (22.2%), John Marshall Law School - Atlanta (21.9%), Widener University - Delaware (21.7%), North Carolina Central University (37.7%), Thomas Jefferson School of Law (37.2%), Arizona Summit Law School (27.2%), Florida Coastal School of Law (25.7%), Capital University (23%),
But Standard 501 concerns cumulative attrition. As such, 9 schools with 1L Attrition between 15% and 20% may reach the 20% threshold during the second or third year.
Santa Clara University (18.4%), Belmont University (16.3%), Regent University (17.9%), University of Memphis (17.3%), Elon Law School (16.3%), University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (16.2%), Faulkner University (18.5%), Ohio Northern University (17.2%), St. Thomas University - Florida (17.2%),
Predicting 1L Attrition
For students who started law school in 2016, there is a strong negative correlation (-0.623) between 1L attrition and the 25th percentile LSAT score. This makes sense because the LSAT is an effective predictor for predict first-year grades.
The following table summarizes 2016 1L attrition by 25th percentile LSAT risk level. The chart below plots LSAT score percentile against 1L attrition by law school.
|Risk Band||LSAT Score||LSAT Percentile||1L Attrition|
|Minimal Risk||156-180||≥ 67.4||1.7%|
|Low Risk||153-155||55.6 - 63.9||4%|
|Modest Risk||150-152||44.3 - 52.5||6.6%|
|High Risk||147-149||33 - 40.3||8.3%|
|Very High Risk||145-146||26.1 - 29.5||12.9%|
|Extreme Risk||120-144||≤ 22.9||16.5%|
All together, high risk, very high risk, and extreme risk schools have an average 1L attrition of 12%, compared to 3.9% at the other schools.
A school's attrition rate conveys meaning, but sometimes a low rate does not mean what it seems. For example, a school may not fail out as many students as they should because they need the students to pay tuition to keep the school solvent. In theory, the ABA's bar passage standard, Standard 316, serves to dissuade a school from graduating students who should have failed out. But Standard 316 is a toothless standard, featuring several gaping loopholes.
About the Data
Puerto Rican schools have been excluded from the chart above because the LSAT is in English and classes in Puerto Rico are generally taken in Spanish. Admissions and enrollment data come from the American Bar Association.