Commentary by Scott DeVito, Dean of Florida Coastal School of Law
In a recent editorial the New York Times made the claim that Florida Coastal School of Law is participating in a scam. As Dean of Florida Coastal School of Law, and a long-time reader of the New York Times, I was, to say the least, taken aback. After all, the Times is saying something demonstrably false and which had not been properly fact checked. I am taking this opportunity to provide the information the New York Times could have had if it had simply asked.
The New York Times got it wrong when it alleged that our students don’t pass the bar and then stick it to the taxpayers to pay the bill for their student loans. The vast majority of our students do pass the bar. The ultimate pass rate for our students is 93%. We had the third best bar pass average in Florida in February 2015—beating out eight other Florida law schools including “elite” law schools. And in a sea of decreasing bar pass rates Florida Coastal actually increased its first time bar pass rates in 2015. Our alumni repay their loans at a higher rate than the “elite” schools. Approximately 1.1% of alumni at Florida Coastal are in default while 2.5% of alumni at the top 20 universities with law schools are in default. Our alumni even outperform alumni at Ivy League schools who default at a 1.2% rate. This is clearly one place where the Times was wrong and therefore misled its readership by failing to properly fact check. The nationwide for-profit school default rate is very high: 19.1%. But Florida Coastal, one of only 205 American Bar Association accredited law schools, isn’t part of that problem. Our students repay their loans because our students succeed.
The New York Times was right when it said that Florida Coastal is a for-profit law school. But it is wrong when it implies that for-profit is inherently bad. Sometimes it takes a for-profit entity to right a wrong—in this case the lack of diversity in law schools. The student body in not-for-profit law schools is about 29.7% diverse. According to the U.S. Census bureau, the United States is currently about 37.9% diverse. The student body at Florida Coastal is approximately 44.4% diverse.
The New York Times got it right when it said that our students have a very high debt load. You will get no disagreement from me on that and that is an area we at the school take seriously and are working to address. But it doesn’t tell the whole story either. Florida Coastal is a for-profit school. That means we do not have the benefit of taxpayer dollars to fund our students’ education. Yes, their debt load is higher but that is because taxpayers are not paying for our students’ education. In addition, if you want to diversify the profession across race and socio-economic lines, then you will have to admit students who do not have the same resources as students at “elite” law schools. Yes, this means they will have to borrow money to pay living expenses. But would it be better for them not to be able to go to law school?
Something the New York Times doesn’t talk about is how Florida Coastal and the students at Florida Coastal have objectively demonstrated their excellence. Our Moot Court team has been first in the nation for three years—they consistently beat “elite, first-tier” schools. Our school has received an A+ rating for experiential learning from the National Jurist and has been lauded for our efforts at improving diversity in the legal community. Last year alone Florida Coastal students donated over 140,000 pro bono hours to the North Florida Community. We have multiple in-house clinics including Family Law, Immigrant and Human Rights, Criminal Defense, Disability and Public Benefits, and Business and Entrepreneurial Law clinics. The faculty and students who practice in these clinics provide vital legal services to underserved communities in North Florida.
As I stated above, Florida Coastal students are a success story. That success is driven by a number of factors. First and foremost is the students themselves. I have never seen a more dedicated group of students with such drive and determination to succeed, to become lawyers, and to make the world a better place. A second factor is our dedicated faculty and staff. Unlike most law schools, Florida Coastal is driven by the goal of teaching students—not on the traditional model of helping faculty build careers by focusing on publishing scholarly work at taxpayer expense. Our faculty do publish in high quality journals like Harvard Environmental Law Review, Yale Law & Policy Review, and Stanford Journal of Complex Litigation. But their scholarly work is secondary to their primary work—teaching. Finally, students’ success at Florida Coastal is built on a data-driven, continuous improvement model of legal education. We have made mistakes. But we identify them, track them, remediate them, and move the school and its students forward as a result.
Scott DeVito is Dean and Professor of Law at Florida Coastal School of Law