Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cutting Class Sizes? Law Schools Go For It

On yesterday's Marketplace, reporter Amy Scott related an interesting tidbit. In order to counter lowered demand for lawyers, while keeping applicant quality high, the Hastings College of the Law (CA) has decided to purposefully restrict enrollment, lowering it from 425 to 330.

When asked about decreasing spots, Hastings dean Frank Wu laid it out: it's the economy, stupid!
" would be irresponsible. It would mean taking far too many students who would really have a risk of not being able to find a job."
 Now wait, where have I heard these arguments before?

All kidding aside, has anyone heard of chemistry or biology departments voluntarily reducing their incoming class sizes? It's well-understood that some students view grad school as a "safe haven" during an uncertain job market, but department Chairs everywhere keep their US News and Times Higher Ed program rankings close to the vest, too.

Might raising the bar help both burnish departmental reputations, while ensuring the "name value" helps future M.S. and Ph.D. graduates to find jobs?


  1. We (that's the academic "we") also have to do a better job of informing our undergraduate chemistry majors of career options that don't require a graduate degree. 2 sides of that coin from my personal experience:
    1. A student asks: "What can I do with a BS/BA in chemistry?" My response: a stumbling, bumbling, vague mention of a couple broad job categories. {Yes, I am appropriately embarrassed that I couldn't rattle off a specific and comprehensive list...}
    2. A student says: "Oh, I don't know, if I can't find a job I can always go to grad school." What? Grad school is supposed to be the challenging option for the go-getters of the world. It's not supposed to be the science-major analog of working at Starbucks while writing your breakthrough novel. Are my graduate degree really worth so little?

    If there truly are ample opportunities for BS/BA chemistry majors, we (and especially I) need to do a better job of pushing our students toward those careers rather than bloating the grad schools. If those quality careers DON'T exist, we need to re-evaluate the entire field.

    Yikes, that got a little preachy.

    1. Eh, no worries, I kind of like preachy. At least it gets these feelings and frustrations out in the open!

  2. Might I suggest that law schools reduce class size because it is actually in their best interest? Law school ranking is based, in part, on student placement (% of alumni employed within 6 months, and where they are placed), so smaller class size now will attract better candidates, who will ultimately give both prestige and donations to their department. In chemistry, on the other hand, ranking is largely based on quality and quantity of research produced, which requires more students. Once they leave, the prestige they accrue bolsters the reputation of the school they are currently at much more than the school they were at.

    1. @Anon - You seem fairly knowledgable about this topic, so let me ask: Why don't chem rankings take into account placement of grads? You'd think that'd be a strong addition to the score, perhaps even more so than "general reputation" or "grant monies received."

  3. Scientific research should be for people who don't want a job. Science should not be viewed as a career but instead considered an alternative to a career. One terrible effect of government funding of science is that it has become a pursuit of money instead of a pursuit of knowledge.