On Sunday, The New York Times ran a refreshingly sharp editorial on a topic we’ve been watching closely for some time—spiraling law school costs and the need to cut back on federal student loans for JD programs. The Times rightly points out that overly generous loan programs share a large part of the blame for the ongoing crisis in legal education:
The consequences of this free flow of federal loans have been entirely predictable: Law schools jacked up tuition and accepted more students, even after the legal job market stalled and shrank in the wake of the recession. […]How can this death spiral be stopped? For starters, the government must require accountability from the law schools that live off student loans… Another good idea would be to cap the amount of federal loans available to individual schools or to students. This could drive down tuition costs, and reduce the debt loads students carry when they leave school.
This is all very reasonable—so it would be nice if the Times were more consistent on this question.When it comes to undergraduate degree programs—many of which are also charging exorbitant prices, sucking up federal money, and failing to equip their graduates with the skills needed to pay back their loans—the Grey Lady has had no objection to expanding federal subsidies. In August, for example, the editorial board heaped praise on Hillary Clinton’s budget-busting college plan, which it said “aims to reduce college costs for students by giving federal grants to states and colleges and by allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.” In 2013, it condemned Republicans who wanted to scale back subsidized loans.The problem, as our friend Instapundit said, is that “when you subsidize something, the price goes up. This is true for all of higher education, not just law schools.” Loosening the flow of federal money is not the solution to the four-year college bubble any more than it is the solution to the law school bubble.That’s not to say that federal loans policies for JD and BA programs need to be identical. But it would be nice to see the Times critically evaluate the idea of federal subsidies in more of its higher education commentary. The current editorial line—that loans are the root of all evil when it comes to law school and the answer to all problems when it comes to undergrad—doesn’t make all that much sense.