Florida Coastal School of Law is the last remaining jewel of the InfiLaw crown — indeed, the jewel even outlived the crown — and it’s fighting for its life. InfiLaw, the for-profit law school network, gave up control of of the school this spring, having already seen Charlotte School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School close after years of exacting high levels of debt from students while simultaneously leaving them on shaky ground once they hit the job market. The schools worried professional gatekeepers so much that the ABA took aim at their accreditation, prompting the schools to hire high-profile legal talent to undermine the ABA’s capacity to perform its job.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education grabbed the baton, terminating Florida Coastal’s access to federal student loan dollars. The school applied for reinstatement, which the Department swiftly rejected, explaining that the school “operated recklessly and irresponsibly, putting its students at financial risk rather than providing the opportunities they were seeking.” While continuing to pursue its appeal of the DOE decision, a teach-out plan filed with the ABA was rejected, meaning the school couldn’t even close properly in the eyes of regulators.
Now we enter the final act.
In a complaint filed this week, Florida Coastal brings its bid for survival to federal court. According to the school, the Department’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” when it, among other things “[i]mproperly rel[ied] on routine accreditation findings to find that FCSL is not administratively and financial responsible.”
It’s not clear what routine accreditation findings accomplish if regulators can’t rely upon them to ensure that law schools are serving their students. We’ve seen accreditation findings crumble under litigation before, so without passing judgment on whether or not Florida Coastal ran afoul of the rules as a legal matter, let’s just take a common sense look at the school’s record and ask ourselves if it seems “reckless and irresponsible.”
- 59.3 percent first-time bar passage rate: Second to last in Florida (Barry University just nips them with a 58.7 percent). Astoundingly, this is good for the Coastal program that was in the low-40s as recently as 2017.
- Median debt to median salary ratio is… not good: In 2019, Florida Coastal grads left school with $198,655 in median debt, which is a hefty figure on its own. It gets worse when you realize the median annual salary of its grads clocks in at $35,300.
- Employment score of 56.3 percent: From our friends at Law School Transparency, the employment score measures full-time, long-term legal employment. To Florida Coastal’s credit, this figure is up from languishing in the 30s and 40s before the class of 2019. But when it comes to students’ careers, it’s probably not appropriate to grade on a curve.
In its complaint, Florida Coastal raises its diversity and high number of racial minority graduates. To this point, I’m not going to try and rewrite what former Above the Law editor Elie Mystal said on this subject:
The “diversity” argument is the most cynical screech of the under-performing law school. We absolutely need law schools with a commitment to diversity. We need schools that help overlooked students become lawyers who are willing to serve underserved communities. We do NOT need diploma mills that can’t prepare people to pass the bar, but can saddle them with a lifetime of educational debt.
The argument that a commitment to diversity somehow necessitates a low bar passage rate offends me. You’re teaching black people to pass a test, you have THREE YEARS to do this. Stop acting like you’re trying to teach a dog how to use the toilet.
Was the Department of Education arbitrary and capricious when it interpreted facts like those above as “reckless”? I guess we’re going to find out.
Earlier: Law School Gets Cut Off From Student Loan Funds… Again
Law School Operated ‘Recklessly’ According To Department Of Education
More Bad News For Troubled Law School
Law School Sues ABA For ‘Attacking Diversity’ And, Like, Doing Its Job
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.