Land of 10,000 Lakes and One Tuition Bubble, Part I

If you didn’t know already, yours truly grew up in the Twin Cities, up the road from Westlaw’s corporate headquarters in Eagan, MN.  Thus, I take special delight investigating the law school tuition bubble’s havoc on my home state.  Minnesota, as you may know, is home to four law schools, which due to its population and economic output, places it high on my measures of law student saturation per population and per million dollars of gross state product.  Let’s compare the Twin Cities to other cities in the Midwest to see just how dire the situation is:

Table 1: City Population (Combined Statistical Area)/City ABA Law Students

City (Combined Statistical Area) (# of ABA Schools) CSA Population (2009)/MSA ABA Students (2008-09)
Minneapolis-St. Paul-St. Cloud, MN-WI (4) 3,604,460/3,085 = 1,168.4
Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha, WI (1) 1,760,268/748 = 2,353.3
Madison-Baraboo, WI (1) 628,947/811 = 775.5
Detroit-Warren-Flint, MI (3) 5,327,764/2,592 = 2,055.5
Lansing-East Lansing-Owasso, MI (2) 523,609/4,691* = 111.6
Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City, IL-IN-WI (7) 9,804,845/6,806 = 1,440.6

* Thomas M. Cooley School of Law has branch campuses elsewhere, including Ann Arbor, which technically lowers Detroit’s score.  It also has an enormous number of part time students with much attrition.

What to make of this?  I have no idea what’s going on in Michigan, and the rumors I’ve read about Cooley’s program fill me with dread.  I’m guessing that Cooley sends its graduates to Detroit, and Madison sends its graduates to Milwaukee.  That’s if we think these things balance out, which they may not.

Two points: First, I’m surprised Detroit is as unsaturated as it is, Cooley aside.  For the purposes of today’s outing though, the Twin Cities are more saturated than Chicago.  Although the Twin Cities Four also supplies the entire state with its lawyers, this looks bad.  Thus we hand the mic to the locals for analysis: Patrick Thornton, “The law school tuition bubble: The rising costs of legal education in Minnesota might not be sustainable,” published April 28, 2010, which shows you just how recent writing on the tuition bubble is (though it’s local not national).

One thing I like about the piece is that Thornton gets all the deans on the record.  They give some of the arguments I’ve seen before:

(a)  Dean Wippman (Minnesota): “U of M has the cheapest tuition relative to its top-tier peers.”  This is a non sequitur because the issue is whether the graduate outcomes justify the tuition rate.  Wippman’s comment is one of two in the whole article that obliquely refer to US News’ rankings.

(b)  Dean Janus (William Mitchell): “Our tuition is cheaper than on the coasts.”  Again, a non sequitur.  The lower relative tuition is only relevant for those who move to the coasts and gain employment there.

(c)  Dean Lewis (Hamline): “The degree will pay off over a 30-year period.”  DISPUTED by Schlunk, Tax Prof, and Dean Van Zandt of Northwestern.  I’d like to see Dean Lewis’ math.

(d)  Dean Mengler (St. Thomas): “We should aspire to have tuition increases match inflation.”  A few paragraphs earlier, Thornton points out that the ABA reported tuition increased three times the inflation rate over the last twenty years.  Dean Mengler (not to mention the rest of the legal education system) must justify that rate before I’ll let him match further increases to inflation.  Secondly, the economy is currently deflating.  Thornton calculates that statewide tuition is increasing by 4.5% versus a 2% CPI inflation (including two recent months of deflation).  This year’s tuition hikes might not make the triple level, but it’ll probably still be double the annual inflation rate.

The deans claimed they’re looking to combine library resources to cut costs, but libraries aren’t the issue when, “70 percent of your budget is salaries,” says Dean Wippman.

Salaries will be the big issue in Part II.


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