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Is a degree worth the cost?

August 16, 2011
By Richard Clark , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Dream big, work hard and you will have a chance at the American Dream. I believed and America delivered. I went to Kalamazoo College, a private school founded by Baptists, using federal loans, grants, and reasonable loans. Seven years later I graduated from law school, using the GI Bill, federal grants and work study.

My generation could believe that we would be part of America's destiny to lead the world. Things have changed.

Last week the Detroit Free Press reported that a New York law firm sued Cooley Law School alleging that Cooley falsely gave students the impression about their chances of being employed after graduation so the high cost of their degrees would be absorbed by future earnings.

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Richard Clark

Cooley graduates 1000 students each year from four Michigan locations. Law school tuition is expensive. Is it worth the investment? The recent lawsuit says, "no!"

Civil lawsuits begin by filing a complaint, numbered paragraphs that the person (or law school in this case) must answer. If the defendant agreed with everything alleged, the case could be over and the plaintiffs, the guys suing, would win. A Cooley representative said the allegations in the suit are baseless.

The complaint in the Cooley suit said, "This action seeks to remedy a systemic, ongoing fraud that is ubiquitous in the legal education industry and threatens to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits."

The allegation - a lot of law schools are out to make money and fudge the numbers about how many of their graduates can make a living while owing tons of school debt.

Paragraph 3 of the complaint alleges "that attending Thomas Cooley and forking over nearly $100,000 in tuition payments is a terrible investment which makes little economic sense and, most likely, will never pay off." The complaint further alleges graduates will have tens of thousands in debt that even bankruptcy cannot erase. The complaint alleges that Cooley students graduate on average with a debt of $105,798, presumably some in undergraduate loans.

While allegations in the Cooley case have not been proved, higher education is costly and can be a heavy burden.

TV law programs cause high income expectations in young people who want to be lawyers. TV lawyers live glamorous lives, drive really nice cars and live in nice homes with nannies and housekeepers.

About a year and a half ago our firm interviewed several young law graduates. A whole lot of them were shoulder deep in debt and had been without a job after graduating from law school the prior year. A far cry from a promise of dreaming big and working hard and being rewarded.

A few years ago I read about a Michigan Bar Association survey conducted to find out how many lawyers were satisfied with their career choice. Seventy percent said they were unsatisfied with what they were doing.

Dissatisfaction could have resulted from having a back breaking debt. Jobs that pay graduates six figures out of law school demand 80-100 hour work weeks. I knew of one young graduate who didn't unpack her moving boxes for several months after moving to New York because she didn't have enough time in her apartment to unpack.

I heard of another young lawyer who found the only way to keep up with the work place pace was to buy underwear because there was no time to wash clothes.

On the other side of the coin are unemployed law graduates who have a lot of time to wash underwear but a possess a huge debt. When the economy hit the skids a couple of years ago big firms in Chicago put lawyers on the street. Some were part owners of the firms that gave them waking papers.

Perhaps it is time to investigate passing a law requiring standardized disclosures on the costs of college and professional degrees. Students should be given the tools to assess whether a degree is worth the cost and decide whether they will live long enough to pay the debt.


EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at



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