The Law School Debt Blob

Many readers know of U.S. News’Graduate Debt Rankings” page, which contains crucial information on law graduate debt that for some reason is not published in the Official Guide even though the ABA is surely collecting it. Law School Transparency does us the favor of providing the same data from the previous two years on three separate spreadsheets, courtesy, I’m told, of U.S. News. The magazine uses the number of graduates for each law school from the previous year of its “graduate debt rankings,” but this is easily remedied by a quick trip to the Official Guide.

I filled in the gaps for the three-year period between 2008 and 2010 with the following assumptions. For 2008, I copied debt numbers from a similar school in the same state (e.g. using NYU’s numbers for Columbia) or copied the numbers from the subsequent year(s) (Florida A&M). In 2009, I filled in gaps by taking the average debt numbers from the previous and subsequent years (e.g. Cooley), or used the subsequent year’s numbers (Southern University). For 2010, I duplicated similar intra-state schools’ numbers or used the average private or public school “percent taking on debt” if that was the only missing number. For all three years, I duplicated Widener-Delaware’s numbers for Widener-Harrisburg. U.S. News excluded the three Puerto Rico law schools. Here’s what we learn.

(79 PUBLIC LAW SCHOOLS) AVERAGE PUBLIC LAW GRADUATE DEBT AVERAGE PUBLIC LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE DEBT-REVENUE MEAN ABSOLUTE DEVIATION TOTAL PUBLIC LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE DEBT-REVENUE
2008 $45,826 $10,593,000 $5,110,000 $836,834,000
2009 $50,271 $11,305,000 $5,764,000 $893,088,000
2010 $53,714 $12,055,000 $5,866,000 $952,310,000
GROWTH RATE +17.2% (+$7,888) +13.8% (+$1,462,000) N/A +13.8% (+$115,476,000)

*****

(114-117 PRIVATE LAW SCHOOLS) AVERAGE PRIVATE LAW GRADUATE DEBT AVERAGE PRIVATE LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE DEBT-REVENUE MEAN ABSOLUTE DEVIATION TOTAL PRIVATE LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE DEBT-REVENUE
2008 $69,567 $19,746,000 $8,932,000 $2,310,250,000
2009 $73,926 $21,182,000 $9,148,000 $2,478,262,000
2010 $79,665 $22,807,000 $10,233,000 $2,668,474,000
GROWTH RATE +14.5% (+$10,098) +15.5% (+$3,061,000) N/A +15.5% (+$358,224,000)

*****

(193-196 LAW SCHOOLS) AVERAGE LAW GRADUATE DEBT AVERAGE LAW SCHOOL GRADUATE DEBT-REVENUE MEAN ABSOLUTE DEVIATION TOTAL PRIVATE LAW SCHOOL DEBT-REVENUE
2008 $87,761 $16,057,000 $8,323,000 $3,147,084,000
2009 $91,606 $17,201,000 $8,803,000 $3,371,350,000
2010 $97,310 $18,473,000 $9,480,000 $3,620,784,000
GROWTH RATE +10.9% (+$9,549) +15.0% (+$2,416,000) N/A +15.1% (+$473,700,000)

Note, these tables account for the fifteen percent or so of graduates who do not take on any law school debt. Though it may sound counterintuitive, “Debt-Revenue” is the term I use to characterize the amount of revenue the law school received from student debt for that graduating class. Also, I’m switching from standard deviations to mean absolute deviations because I deal with full populations that are not normally distributed, and I find mean absolute deviations more intuitive.

And now, to sate your unspeakable viewing desires, here’s the animated number of law schools by debt-revenue, aka the Law School Debt Blob. The blue line on the left is the median, the black line, the average.

This gives us an idea of the distribution of law schools by revenue over the last few years, and it’s what happens when you add nearly half a billion dollars onto law students’ backs. We can only imagine how far rightward it moved before 2008. Although, it’s important to note that all universities jacked their tuition in fall 2009 due to the damage the financial crisis did to their endowments.

Oh, and yes, Cooley is the one on the far right, receiving a princely $87.6 million in debt-revenue from the class of 2009.

And here’s the numeric growth in each five million dollar category.

I don’t like adjusting these kinds of numbers by the consumer price index, but we know it’s in excess of that. I also wish I could compare this to graduates’ starting salaries, but NALP data are short-term, too inaccurate in my opinion, and subject to cyclical swings. If you’d like more info on which law schools rank highest in debt-revenue, I listed them in this post.

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