Photo by Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)
Photo by Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Is the ABA on Verge of Losing Law School Accreditation?

The American Bar Association may be on the brink of a serious rebuke.

An advisory committee under the U.S. Department of Education has recommended the ABA lose its ability to accredit new law schools for a period of one year.

In a little-noticed decision, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity on Wednesday recommended the Department of Education suspend for one year the ABA’s ability to accredit new law schools.

The news was earlier reported by the trade publication, Inside Higher Ed, which sent a reporter to Wednesday’s meeting of the NACIQI in Arlington, Virginia. Its article reported that the committee is concerned about the ABA’s lack of focus on student achievement, as well as law student debt levels.

The NACIQI makes recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Education about which agencies should be able to accredit higher learning institutions; and accreditation creates eligibility for federal funding. Its reproof of the ABA’s accreditation comes at a time when law students’ soaring debt levels and uncertain job prospects have become a perpetual discussion topic.

From Inside Higher Ed:

After three contentious votes, [the NACIQI] recommended that the department suspend the association’s ability to accredit new members for a year. The panel said the ABA had failed to implement its student achievement standards and probationary sanctions, while also falling short on its audit process and analysis of graduates’ debt levels.

The NACIQI did not revoke the ABA’s accrediting authority for existing institutions, but asked that it return in one-year to see if it is in compliance with its standards.

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, issued a statement that took issue with some of the findings.

The ABA “believes that it is operating in compliance … but will make any changes to its accreditation standards and rules of procedure that are necessary to stay in good standing with NACIQI and the Department of Education,” Currier said in his statement.

He pointed to an NACIQI staff report that he said found the ABA is in compliance with core substantive areas and has only “minor technical deficiencies.”

The report identifies a half-dozen issues and problems for the ABA to address. These include amending certain standards and procedures for site evaluations, the requirements for self-study and also minor tasks such as providing the NACIQI with resumes from its staff.

The NACIQI’s rebuke of the ABA came amid a wider criticism of accreditors before the meeting by undersecretary of education Ted Mitchell.

“The unfortunate reality is that not all institutions have students’ best interests at heart or are investing their resources in ways that maximize student success,” said Mitchell. “Accreditors should be the failsafe in these instances. But too often they have been asleep at the switch.”

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