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The initial results of a sweeping new annual comparative assessment of U.S. law schools are now on the desks of deans and administrators at 42 campuses across the country, including seven in New York state. Based on student enrollment, the law schools paid fees between $3,000 and $4,000 for the first annual “Law School Survey of Student Engagement.” The assessment, in which more than 13,000 students from 25 states completed Internet questionnaires from the Center for Postgraduate Research at the University of Indiana, was supported by the Association of American Law Schools and The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Student responses were aggregated nationally in an 18-page public report, with a lengthy, confidential assessment tailored for individual academic subscribers. Survey factors went beyond demographics and traditional ranking measures, such as campus resources, school reputations and bar exam pass rates, to more complex factors, including student expectations, attitudes and scholastic habits. Statistics amassed during 2004 from students at public and private law schools of varying size revealed both “promising” and “disappointing” findings, according to the public report. On the positive side: � 82 percent of students rated their schools “good” or “excellent.” � 82 percent were encouraged to learn by applying classroom theory to practical problems. � 96 percent posed questions to spark classroom discussion. � 94 percent found campus library services satisfactory or better. � 76 percent were satisfied with their schools’ emphasis on law practice ethics. On the negative side: � 63 percent of students said they received scant support in job placement. � 56 percent had not participated in pro bono or volunteer work. � 56 percent incurred $60,000 or more in tuition debt. � 32 percent never have substantive discussions with faculty outside of class. � 18 percent said they “never” received prompt written or oral feedback from professors. “It’s good for us to know what students are happy with, and where we need to beef up,” said Keith Sealing, associate dean of student services at Syracuse University College of Law. Speaking of the detailed confidential report, he added, “We got a lot of good statistical breakdowns that we think are very helpful, and which we take very much to heart.” Dean Richard Matasar of New York Law School agreed, noting the heightened importance of student satisfaction at private campuses like his. “We need a systematic, scientific way of knowing what our students think of our school in terms of value for cost,” he said. With future surveys, he added, “We’ll be able to view year-to-year comparisons, the progression of our students as they move closer to employment.” In addition to checking off answers to the online questionnaire, students were invited to submit anonymous narratives, which accompanied the confidential reports. “They were very blunt, not at all sparing of our feelings,” said Nicola Lee, associate dean for special projects at Long Island’s Touro Law Center. In a foreword to the public report, Bryant Garth, senior research fellow for the American Bar Foundation, wrote: Legal educators will … not be surprised by the finding that law students are less satisfied with particular services, especially placement. … [T]here is a long history of relative complacency in legal education. … Professors are not chosen primarily for their teaching ability. In fact, relatively few young professors have even had any teaching experience. … The world of legal education has been very slow to move beyond simple course surveys as the means to evaluate teaching programs. Lee, who has experience conducting course surveys and faculty evaluations, described the Indiana project as carefully conducted, with “the right questions in neutral language.” She said she was impressed by the unusually high response rate of 50 percent. In-house surveys, she said, typically involve questions on paper forms stuffed into student mailboxes. “We’d be thrilled with a 25 percent return on that,” said Lee. “The more participation, the more reliable the information.” Lee said the confidential report on Touro Law Center showed that students are more apt to have longer commutes and more work and family obligations than their counterparts at similar campuses of 750 or fewer students, and, therefore, much less disposable time. Accordingly, she said Touro’s clinic might soon have expanded options–a four-credit commitment in addition to the six-credit course, for instance–and that campus organizations might likewise change event schedules to accommodate busy students. Matasar said New York Law has already made a significant alteration based on responses from an earlier pilot survey conducted by Indiana and the current report. In the pilot survey, New York Law students complained about an “insufficient number of computer terminals.” Now with an upgrade, he said, “It’s no longer an issue.” Brooklyn Law School, Fordham University School of Law, Pace Law School and St. John’s University School of Law also participated in the survey. Respondents were split evenly among first, second and third-year students, and equally divided between men and women. About 80 percent of respondents were white, 8 percent Latino, 6 percent Asian, 5 percent black, and 2 percent American Indian. One-third of the students were from public schools, 40 percent were from private schools with religious affiliations and 29 percent from private schools without religious affiliation.

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