2010 Law School Grad Debt at $3.6 Billion

A reader recommended I calculate total law school debt for 2010 grads. How? By taking the number of grads from each law school in the Official Guide and then multiplying them against the average debt levels and the percentage of students taking on debt in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings. Why this isn’t in the Official Guide is beyond me. These data can tell us quite a bit, and it’s only part of some research I’ve been doing.

First, a caveat: U.S. News isn’t complete. It excludes the Puerto Rican law schools, which as I’ve written before are their own unique disaster. It’s also missing a few points. So, for University of Phoenix, Harvard University, and Appalachian School of Law I used the average percent of graduates with debt (85.1%). For Florida International, I duplicated Florida State’s debt numbers and percent with debt, same for Indiana-Indianapolis from Indiana-Bloomington, and Widener-Harrisburg from Widener-Delaware. I also found La Verne’s and Widener-Harrisburg’s number of graduates from their websites as the Official Guide misprinted Widener-Delaware’s data for Harrisburg’s (shows how no one reads the Official Guide), and it excludes La Verne because it had lost its accreditation.

After slapping this into a spreadsheet, here’re a few factoids.

(1)  The average 2010 public law school graduate had $53,661 of debt at graduation; for private school grads it was $79,699. The average overall law student took on $97,306 (yes, the overall average is greater than the public/private ones).

(2)  2010 public law school grads incurred $951.8 million in debt; private graduates $2.669 billion. Total law school graduate debt was $3.621 billion in 2010.

(3)  The average public law school gained $12 million in debt from 2010 grads (median 10 million, standard deviation $7,710,185); that’s $22.8 million for private law schools (median $19.6 million, standard deviation $13,699,205). Here’re the dispersals.

And here’re the top 20 law schools by total graduate debt. For public schools the list isn’t too surprising. For private schools, though, it’s an interesting mix of prestigious and not-so-prestigious law schools. Some of it is high cost and some of it is large enrollments. However, I can’t ignore how much of an outlier Cooley is, so I included the z-score’s on the right of the table. The z-score measures a data point’s distance from the mean, and it’s measured in standard deviations. Cooley’s 4.72 tells us it is way out there.

1 California-Hastings 35,570,896 3.05
2 Michigan 35,510,278 3.04
3 Virginia 34,631,340 2.93
4 Indiana (Indianapolis) (Est.) 31,571,512 2.53
5 California-Los Angeles 28,055,645 2.08
6 Baltimore 26,128,664 1.83
7 Texas 23,974,030 1.55
8 California-Berkeley 22,810,122 1.40
9 Temple 20,771,127 1.13
10 Indiana (Bloomington) 20,695,707 1.12
11 Minnesota 20,487,209 1.09
12 Penn State 19,684,105 0.99
13 Maryland 19,049,364 0.91
14 George Mason 18,726,770 0.87
15 Florida 18,699,633 0.86
16 Rutgers (Newark) 17,373,648 0.69
17 Wisconsin 16,589,299 0.59
18 North Carolina Central 15,495,257 0.45
19 Oregon 15,462,409 0.44
20 Houston 15,323,970 0.42


1 Cooley 87,410,308 4.72
2 Georgetown 68,060,738 3.30
3 Harvard (Est.) 58,024,861 2.57
4 American 53,397,546 2.23
5 New York University 49,767,194 1.97
6 New York Law School 48,762,544 1.89
7 Florida Coastal 47,445,152 1.80
8 Suffolk 47,203,984 1.78
9 George Washington 45,084,600 1.63
10 Fordham 43,865,940 1.54
11 Loyola Marymount (CA) 43,621,657 1.52
12 Columbia 42,031,490 1.40
13 Brooklyn 37,970,649 1.11
14 Pacific (McGeorge) 36,806,108 1.02
15 Stetson 36,236,370 0.98
16 John Marshall (IL) 35,749,033 0.94
17 Miami 35,670,595 0.94
18 South Texas 35,593,309 0.93
19 Catholic 34,665,333 0.87
20 Cardozo 34,165,228 0.83

I have more to say on aggregate law school debt growth, but that’s for a separate post.

[UPDATE: Here’s the post, “THE LAW SCHOOL DEBT BUBBLE: $53 Billion in New Law School Debt by 2020.”]


  1. I will disregard methodological problems. But — using the same logic, I think it is fair to compute the aggregate income for graduating lawyers as well.

    1. darren12000, thanks for the comments.

      Hm. That could be done with NALP data, except only a fraction of graduates respond to the salary questions in the survey. Moreover, that’s only good for one year. The important point in ROI calculations is to ensure the income stream is stable enough to justify the investment, and unless everyone who finishes law school makes a metric mountain of money after one year, I think the time horizon is too short.

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