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Suing School

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By Chelsea Jones

Princeton students are a varied bunch, to say the least. We do different things, enjoy different things and believe different things. Even our paths to get here were vastly different. However, I find it safe to say that the majority of us have a similar wish -- to get a job. But in an economy only beginning to work its way out of recession and with more than 8 percent of people in the U.S. still unemployed as of February, achieving that goal seems a lot more difficult and a lot less assured than it once was. We'll leave Princeton with impressive résumés, a hard-earned degree and the skills to kill an interview, but beyond that we simply have to hope for the best because -- even as a freshman it scares me to say -- there is just no guarantee.

We are fortunate enough, however, to attend Princeton University, which has a history of sending its students toward bright, employed futures. We can only hope that our prospects are just as promising.

But what if this isn't the case? What if, after all these years of studying and research and papers and problem sets, you don't get a job within that first year of graduation? This was the problem facing many graduates of the New York Law School, who graduated with a J.D. and thousands of dollars of debt, but no job. Their solution? Sue.

According to ­­­­the New York Post, last August three graduates filed a $200 million lawsuit against the NYLS alleging the school falsely claims that 90 to 95 percent of its graduates gain employment within nine months of graduation. They feel the school used the term "employment" to include even those jobs that do not require a J.D. at all. The graduates argue that the realistic number of those with law-related jobs is closer to 50 percent. They feel the school's abuse of the loose definition leads prospective students to enroll based on the delusion of guaranteed employment post-graduation.

Now, the New York Post reported in a more recent article that the suit, now filed by six additional students, has been thrown out. Justice Melvin Schweitzer disagreed with the allegation that NYLS inflated its statistics. In putting the suit to rest, he wrote, "The action here is brought by nine plaintiffs, some of whom may be experiencing the real aftershocks that have hit the legal profession since America's Great Recession of 2008." The justice added, "The issues posed by this case exemplify the adage that not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit."

The graduates intend to appeal and even to raise allegations against other legal education institutions. The question remains, however, whether their claims constitute legitimate concerns about honest representation or ill-targeted bitterness toward a weak job market. The fact of the matter is that jobs are harder to come by than they were five years ago, when unemployment was only 4.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Whether a school boasts an employment rate of 95 percent or 50 percent post-graduation, this does not guarantee that the numbers will stay the same from year to year. A great year for employment could be followed by a dismal one and vice versa. Timing is just another element in the game of chance.

Furthermore, their claim that the percent of employed graduates deludes prospective students into applying seems to me a gross exaggeration meant to bolster their lawsuit. In thinking of my own application process, not so long ago, not once did I look at Princeton's rate of employment. My enrollment had much more to do with the esteemed professors, the attention to undergraduate education and the vast array of extracurriculars than it did some number that can so easily fluctuate from year to year. While the statistic may be more important to those applying to professional schools than it was to my own application process as an undergraduate, it seems a stretch to say that the number is the sole factor in convincing students to enroll. Regardless, for students to take the publicized rate of employment as a guarantee of a job four years down the line is a wistful misunderstanding on the part of the student, not the university.

We come to college with dreams of prosperous futures and successes. However, the current economy may not lend itself to these sorts of dreams for the time being. I admit it's a morbid outlook, but financial success does not come as easily when lucrative jobs are hard to come by. I can kick and scream; I can complain; I can curse Wall Street greed. Or I can make like the NYLS graduates and sue my alma mater for not handing me a high-paying job. But, as Justice Schweitzer's ruling makes clear, suing -- like complaining and blaming -- is not the solution to the problem. One of college's many purposes is to equip us with skills for finding a job; the rest is up to us and, perhaps, a little bit of luck.

Chelsea Jones is a freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. She can be reached at chelseaj@princeton.edu.

This post originally appeared in The Daily Princetonian.