The Legal Beat
Charlotte Agrees To ‘Teach-Out’ Plan… But Does It Meet DOE Requirements?
Posted on Tuesday February 07, 2017
After rejecting an earlier teach-out agreement with the Department of Education, the ABA Journal reports that Charlotte School of Law has now filed a plan to allow its students to close out their legal education with Florida Coastal, a fellow InfiLaw program. Under the proposed plan, filed with the ABA, Florida Coastal offers “professional development and quality assurance support” and will distribute Title IV funds to Charlotte students, while Charlotte will remain the degree-granting institution.
But what’s unclear is if this particular plan meets the Department of Education’s requirements.
What is clear is that the school hasn’t developed any sense of remorse, because even with this proposal they’re sticking to their strategy of casting their punishment as an Obama administration overreach in hopes of securing more favorable treatment from a woman whose primary educational concern is mass Grizzly Bear attacks and a guy sued for running a shoddy for-profit educational service.
“CSL intends to challenge the Department of Education,” school spokeswoman Victoria Taylor wrote in an email to the ABA Journal. “The department’s action was unilateral and premature, impermissibly substituting the judgment of a few individuals at the department for that of the American Bar Association and shortcutting important due process protections that the department requires all accreditors to maintain. It was a parting shot by an administration intent on closing CSL regardless of the harm and disruption to our students, faculty, and staff.”
But even if the new regime of Keystone Kops at DOE signs onto Charlotte’s proposal, is it enough? David Frakt, who knows a thing or two about InfiLaw’s practices — having been escorted out of an interview there once — thinks this proposal is woefully inadequate:
I suspect the ABA may have serious reservations about having a school that just failed the DOE’s Gainful Employment Test and has had similarly exploitative admissions practices (Florida Coastal Dean Scott DeVito assures me that those practices are a thing of the past and that the school has substantially raised admission standards this year), and has a poor and rapidly declining bar pass rate, exceedingly high attrition rates, and woeful job placement rates providing “quality assurance” over academic support and support for career services. Another reason to object to Florida Coastal’s oversight is that many of Charlotte Law School’s woes are directly traceable to Dennis Stone, the current President of Florida Coastal who was formerly Interim Dean (the faculty refused to approve him as Dean) and later President of Charlotte Law School through May 2013, when InfiLaw shifted him over to Florida Coastal. President Stone was the architect behind the predatory admission practices at both schools, which were designed to meet Sterling Partners’ return on investment expectations rather than ABA Standard 501.
Ruminating on the situation, Rick Bales, the former dean of Ohio Northern, suggests an ABA SWAT team — coy phrasing for a special response team who could assume control of flagging schools:
There arguably is already a process of sorts for this, as the ABA can send “fact-finders” to noncompliant schools, but this process already has played itself out at Charlotte and does not seem to have worked. Alternatively, a failing and noncompliant school could be put into a sort of receivership. Either way, the focus should be on the students, and not the investors or institution or even (though I’ve seen no evidence of faculty malfeasance at Charlotte) the faculty.
I don’t pretend to have thought through what all this would entail. Could a receivership be imposed and administered by the ABA, or would the DOE or a federal court need to be involved? Under what circumstances would radical intervention be appropriate (for example, should admitting large numbers of students unlikely to pass a bar exam be an appropriate trigger)? Who would be the receivers or SWAT-team members (perhaps a pool of volunteers, much like the pool of folks on ABA accreditation site-visit teams)? What limits would exist on the power of the receiver or SWAT team? Would they be empowered to act quickly, or encumbered by an extensive review process? Remember that existing students have exceptionally short time-lines – third-year students have the bar looming, and first- and second-year students face stringent limits on transfer credits and residency requirements.
Whatever happens with this teach-out plan, students should be aware of the risks involved in signing onto such a deal. As the ABA Journal explains:
Heather Jarvis, a North Carolina attorney who provides educational resources and training for student-loan borrowers, advises law students offered teach-out plans to carefully consider all their options before accepting the agreements.
If a law student takes a teach-out offer or transfers credits to a new school, she says, he or she would not be eligible for federal loan discharge. If someone decided to start over as a first-year student at a new law school, Jarvis adds, he or she likely would be able to discharge prior law school loans.
While this is a significant step for a school that had kicked the DOE in the teeth over a teach-out agreement mere weeks ago, Charlotte is still very much in limbo and whatever the outcome, Charlotte students face a lot of risk going forward. Be sure to make the right financial decision for yourselves.
Charlotte School of Law reportedly files teach-out plan to ABA [ABA Journal]
Charlotte School of Law’s Teach-out Plan [Faculty Lounge]
Former Dean: ABA Should Deploy SWAT Teams To Rescue Students At Failing Law Schools [Tax Prof Blog]
Joe Patrice is an 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.