Northeastern University – the Little College That Could . . . Jack Up Its Cost to $55,000 per annum – has gone full-page boogie in a new advertising campaign.
From Monday’s Boston Globe:
The same ad ran in Monday’s New York Times national (!) edition and Monday’s Wall Street Journal.
The hardsearching staff hasn’t found any more information about the campaign on the Googletron, so we’ll make a phone call to the Northeastern folks later today.
Meanwhile, be impressed.
Be very impressed.
As a graduate of the law school at Northeastern, I feel obliged to point out that the law school, for years and years and years, claimed that 40% of its graduates were landing legal jobs from the co-op program. Like the ad that is the subject of this blog post, there was no way to check that number or how they derived it. In 2011, after a not-subtle-threat of a Senate investigation by Boxer (D) and Grassley (R), the American Bar Association implemented a somewhat more rigorous reporting scheme for law school employment outcomes – previously, law schools had more or less been able to say things like “95% employed at average $160k salary” even if they only tabulated the employment outcomes of the 20% of their graduating class who landed large corporate jobs. Lo and behold, it turns out fewer than 50% of Northeastern Law School grads were landing legal jobs AT ALL!
The law school attempted to perpetuate the 40% co-op job stat even after it was revealed that only 49% of the Class of 2011 found legal jobs by any means, but were questioned by a few observers, most notably the advocacy group Law School Transparency and the blog Hungry Hungry Lawyers. Soon after, the 40% co-op employment stat, which they have hawked for a decade or more now, disappeared. The most recent ABA employment data, for the Class of 2012, reveals that only 43% of that class found full-time, long-term, license-required work at any salary within nine months of graduation. According to the law professor site The Faculty Lounge, this is only the 160st best showing of the 197 law schools that reported data to the ABA, and only a few percentage points higher than Suffolk or New England Law Boston (and very, very far behind BC and BU Law Schools).
This is my roundabout way of saying, “How do we know the stats in the present ad are accurate?” Off the top of my head, here are some of the variables that are missing: on what percentage of the student body were these statistics based? What counts as employment? What percentage of the student body is currently working in a role that does not require a college degree? How does one determine whether a job is in a student’s major or course of study? What percentage of that 91% employed or in grad school stat are in graduate school, and of those graduate students, how many matriculated because they couldn’t land on their feet in the job market? (The number of graduate degrees awarded in the United States has increased 63% since 2000, in large part on the backs of left-behind college graduates doubling down, so to speak, on education. And student loans). Of the students that are actually, truly landing real-life college-required jobs, how many are staying afloat financially? One cannot help but notice that the university’s tuition was $17,380 in 2002 – http://www.collegecalc.org/colleges/massachusetts/northeastern-university/#.UxDl4suYYdU – but a massive $41,686 for the current academic year http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/northeastern-university-2199. That is very nearly a 150% tuition increase in just a dozen years, a far more rapid and pronounced rise than any other Boston institution of higher education, and currently this former commuter college costs but a few dollars less than Harvard or MIT. The Veblen Good Theory at work. Has the median or average starting salary for Northeastern grads kept apace, or even the 90th percentile starting salary? I doubt it. And since Northeastern does not offer the financial assistance or no-loans policies of Harvard or MIT, perhaps we should check on what one must earn to pay back the cost of a Northeastern degree. According to that first link, the average four-year net price for students who receive financial aid (a term that can encompass federal and private student loans) is a rather shocking $129,972, meaning that one will need to earn about $157,000 per year to keep the standard student loan payment at a reasonable 10% ratio to earnings.* What percentage of Northeastern undergrads land positions paying $157k, I wonder? Heck, I bet fewer than 10% of them get within half of that figure.
It is important to note that all of these stats are, of course, self-reported and unaudited, and if one reads the higher education websites, namely the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, they will see that a college, law school, or business school gets caught peddling knowingly false numbers about every six to eight weeks or so, and every third-party observer of the College Numbers and Rankings game believes that the system is rife with data manipulation, misrepresentation, and even fraud. As I detailed above, the law school administration had little ethical issue promulgating what turned out to be, at best, an outdated, unverified, wildly inaccurate co-op statistic. This despite law professors at other institutions publishing hard-hitting articles like “Law Deans in Jail” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1990746 and “Law School Marketing and Legal Ethics” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2192694.
Finally, if one were to get an account for Charity Navigator or Guidestar, as I have, they could look at the executive compensation section of Northeastern’s IRS Form 990 and see that certain folk are receiving enormous sums of money for hitting unspecific performance parameters related to enrollment and rankings and similar. All numbers of unaudited virtue. The fellow at the top received a multi-million dollar bonus this year to that regard. Perhaps it is all aboveboard, but avarice and financial incentives have led many off the primrose path, both in academia and in the larger world, and frankly, none of these numbers have the smell of absolute truth to my nose, which has been battered by much hard experience, for I am,
Unemployed Northeastern, one of the school’s hundreds of un/underemployed law school graduates, and probabilistically close to a pauper’s grave than to the other side of the cost of my education.
*I once read a law review article from 1987 – when everything was A LOT cheaper in the world of higher education – that posited that 6% of takehome income was the maximum one should pay on student loans. Today, policymakers pat themselves on the back for Income-Based Repayment limiting student loan payments to 15% of takehome income, and many a law school graduate, including myself, encounters stiff competition to land a job whose entire salary is unequal to their standard student loan payment.
Pingback: Northeastern University’s National Ad Campaign, Part II | Campaign Outsider