So the answer is to stop public funding of education? That... kind of feels like giving up. This is the United States of America. I feel like we should be able to have the best engineers in the world. Maybe you're telling me that era is over.
It is over, and has been for some time. It started under Reagan and NAFTA sure didn't help. Of course the idea was that we didn't need all these grimy old factories and such- the 3rd world serfs of the world could stich together our Nikes and solder together our radios & TVs for a nickle an hour.
None of it would matter because Americans would all become "educated" via college and grad school and push meaningless, voluminous stacks of shitpaper from one side of a cubicle to another. But now SURPRISE! --- the serfs of the 3rd world also have education now, and will push that same shitpaper for a fraction of what Americans need to survive. This country's best days are simply behind it, and anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional or in deep denial/
With regards to law, it was really only an "elite" profession (as opposed to a dime a dozen, churn n' burn industry
) from about the end of WWII to probably the very early 90s. Prior to WWII most lawyers were trained on the job and requirements to practice were pretty lax in most states.
After WWII we saw the rise of the ABA lawschool & bar'zam model, where no one could practice w/out being pretty smart. There weren't many schools, and admission standards were high. Once admitted, upwards of 50% of the class would be flunked out after 1st year. The supply/demand metrics were excellent, and thus most lawyers earned a comfortable upper class living and didn't really have to work terribly hard. Practice involved a lot more common law and drafting original arguments, not cut n' paste slop like we see today in insurance defense and other gutter practice areas.
But that model couldn't last forever. Student loan cash was easy and flowing fast, and the TTT's started popping up all over the place. What was once a true profession with high standards and low supply quickly morphed into an absurd oversupply, with a drastic reduction in the quality of the bar. People who could barely read & write flooded the NYLS, Cooleys, Brooklyns, 'Bozos and such of the world, and why flunk anyone out when that would end the student loan gravy train? The bar exam was likewise dumbed down, since it was too hard on "minorities" and people with learning disabilities, etc.
Now the party is pretty much over. It would take closing down 75% of the current schools and probably almost a generation to cull the oversupply and get the metrics back to a reasonable level. But that's unlikely to happen since the ABA will accredit anyone who opens a law school in the spare bay of his garage. Hell, they just green lighted a Cooley campus in Florida of all places. The Cooleys of the world are run by pretty smart businesspeople who see the massive, risk-free profits out there for the taking. No expensive labs, no equipment, nothing but a few big rooms and a few Biglaw washouts to piss away 3 years with time-wasting Socratic bullshit and a few very easy exams.
By 2020 there will be a Cooley campus in half the US states, and one lawyer for about every 10 citizens. Stop and ask yourself how many lawyers you or your family have needed in your life? Biglaw will always be around in some form, but for everyone else things are grim indeed.