Sticky Links—YLD Transparency Resolution Drops the Ball on Tuition Transparency

(1) ABA Young Lawyers Divison (YLD), “Resolution 1YL,” via J-Dog, “ABA Young Lawyers Division Adopts Transparency Resolution,” in Restoring Dignity to the Law

The ABA Young Lawyers Division proclaims:

BE IT RESOLVED…that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to similarly publicize the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school…

The [Truth in Law School Education] resolution urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to include the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school, which will assist law students during the decisionmaking process of applying to law school. The ABA has also addressed this issue in a document entitled The Value Proposition of Attending Law School, which can be found at: []. [My emphasis]

First of all, the ABA’s “Value Proposition” document is not a reliable source. Former Northwestern dean David Van Zandt low-balled the break-even starting salary a law degree requires: private law school tuition is higher than $30,000 on average, student loans accrue interest, and there’s a glut of attorneys on the market which means the 5% discount rate is likely too low as well. Though in his defense, no one makes $60,000 annually before law school so that lowers the break-even point from the other factors I’ve specified.

Last week, I predicted the ABA wouldn’t be foolish enough to require law schools to publish their tuition on a per-credit basis because law schools charge all kinds of fees as well. If passed, law schools will start behaving as airlines—keeping tuition down and shifting costs to arbitrary fees for which they aren’t held accountable. Here’s an example from the University of Montana.

Yeah, you're gonna have to click on this one.

Obviously, in fairness, UMT isn’t exactly gouging its residents, but for the sake of argument do the math:

Tuition + all fees = $10,972. Tuition on a per-credit basis? $145, assuming thirty credits per year. Tuition ends up accounting for 39.6% of the total cost of attendance less books, transportation, and living expenses. Law schools are also entitled to change their tuition and fees at any time without notice.

As to what the ABA wants: First, law schools are already providing this information in standardized annualized form to the LSAC. It’s not the current school year’s tuition; it’s not next year’s tuition. It doesn’t predict tuition increases, which are certain at all but a handful of schools that are making token resistance (University of Maryland and Ave Maria). But at least it’s a fully inclusive number that law schools don’t dodge by fee-shifting.

Second, what’s so great about per-credit tuition? It requires applicants to multiply the numbers to get a meaningful idea of what they’ll be paying over three years (or more). The varying fees between law schools make tuition calculations incomparable, and it shields the perceivable impact of tuition increases from the actual impact on students’ bottom lines. For example, a 5% increase at UMT will make next year’s per-credit tuition only $152.25. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal right?

Third, prepare for the fee onslaught. Instead of increasing total costs, law schools will shift increases to their opaque fees. Take a look at University of Oklahoma:

You want transparency? Why not ask your law school what the “Academic Excellency Fee” means. Why does it cost $59.45? Is that more or less than at other schools? What’s it spent on specifically? Are there cheaper ways of obtaining um…academic excellence? Is all the money collected spent on it? If there’s a surplus, where does it go and what is it spent on? When will increases to this fee be announced? Is there a way students can opt out of fees they feel don’t impact them, like the $5.95 “Student Activity Fee”? My other favorite example is at Louisiana State University with its “Mandatory Fee” and “Operational Fee.”

I know I’m picking on public schools over this, and that’s because these are the best examples from my memory. But remember two things: all schools charge fees on top of tuition, and public law schools are increasing costs faster than private ones—they’ll soon be identical as state governments cast them out like Hagar and Ishmael.

Prospective law students—whom the YLD apparently believes are too stupid to be convinced that a legal education has a disastrously low ROI should they read its own resolution’s summary of publicly available NALP data—are already getting better tuition transparency from the LSAC than what the YLD proposed to the ABA.

Hopefully the LSAC and the law schools will continue to publish tuition information as they currently do. I really don’t want to be the consumer advocate here.

Also, why is the ABA’s Annual House of Delegates meeting in Toronto?

(2) Brian Leiter, “Law Schools with Largest 10-Year Tuition Hikes,” in Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

I’m vain. I like seeing the Law School Tuition Bubble popping up all over Google searches for “law school tuition increases,” though it’s not at the top yet. Further down the list Brian Leiter gives us a blast from the past in 2005.

The January 2005 National Jurist [tragically unavailable online] has striking data on which law schools have raised tuition the most in the last ten years; unsurprisingly, state schools dominate the list (yet most still remain far cheaper than their peer privates).  Strikingly, the University of California law schools are four of the top ten!  Here are the ten law schools that have raised tuition the most between 1993 and 2003; next to each school’s name is the percentage increase and the 03-04 (resident) tuition.

1.  University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (589.7% increase, $10,429)

2.  University of Hawaii (376.2% increase, $10,942)

3.  University of California, Davis (294.5%, $17,195)

4.  University of California, Los Angeles (277.8%, $17,012)

5.  University of Arizona (272.9%, $10,604)

6.  University of California, Berkeley (269.1%, $16,294)

7.  University of California, Hastings (257.7%, $15,615)

8.  University of Washington, Seattle (242.6%, $13,630)

9.  Arizona State University (235.6%, $9,545)

10. University of Idaho (214.7%, $6,696)

Today: These law schools charge:

University of North Carolina – $17,068.00

University of Hawaii – $15,960.00

UC Davis – $41,605.00

UCLA – $40,616.00

University of Arizona – $23,527.00

UC Berkeley – $44,244.50

UC Hastings – $36,000.00

University of Washington – $24,339.00

Arizona State University – $21,598.00

University of Idaho – $12,940.00

Moral: Stay clear of the California “public” law schools.

Here’s my favorite quote:

Michigan—which is already de facto private (in terms of state support and percentage of state residents)—had the lowest increase during the 10-year period, of 123.5%.  But that still left it with an eye-popping tuition of $27,884, higher than many private law schools…

So Michigan’s $27,884 was “eye-popping” in January 2005, eh? What does that make its $44,600.00 today?


One comment

  1. “So Michigan’s $27,884 was “eye-popping” in January 2005, eh? What does that make its $44,600.00 today?”


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