Record, that is, going back to 2009. If you have data from earlier, lemme know.
Each year, accompanying the U.S. News rankings is the online magazine’s list of law schools by graduate debt. The law schools are required to report this information to the ABA, but the ABA inexplicably doesn’t release it to the public, even though it’s one of the most useful things people studying law schools would like to know about. Instead, the ABA takes an unweighted average of the numbers and posts it in this pdf. Thus, for some reason, we must rely on U.S. News, and of course, law schools can decline to transmit their graduates’ average debt numbers.
On average, about four law schools (excluding Widener University’s Harrisburg campus, the three Puerto Rico law schools, and Belmont because I don’t think it’s had any graduates yet) don’t report average graduate debt levels. The previous record was six in 2010. This year, as many as fourteen chose not to. Here’s the list and their last reported average graduate debt levels:
Arizona Summit (formerly Phoenix) – $162,627 [UPDATE: Per the comments below, Arizona Summit Law School’s Web site posts its 2012-13 graduates’ average amount borrowed as $184,825.]
Southwestern – $147,976
Atlanta’s John Marshall – $142,515
Cornell – $140,000
Touro – $137,781
Campbell – $130,428
Santa Clara – $129,621
Loyola (La.) – $124,335
Thomas M. Cooley – $122,395
Appalachian – $114,740
La Verne – $112,628
Texas Southern – $99,992
Florida A&M (two years in a row) – $96,934
Rutgers-Camden – $93,990
Most of the non-reporters are private law schools and five are free-standing privates. Four are in California. All of them tend to have higher debt levels than the norm, so any weighted-average law school debt figure will skew downward. This is important because the unweighted average law school debt level appears to have declined, but that’s attributable to non-reporting—not reduced average costs or less Grad PLUS borrowing. Last year these schools graduated 3,724 students, eight percent of the total.
Other law schools deserve dishonorable mention for misreporting:
- Barry University didn’t report its average graduate debt level last year, but two years ago it was $137,680; this year it’s only $47,799, suggesting it reported its third-year students’ annual debt and not graduate debt like it was supposed to. There was a flap about this last year, so it’s surprising anyone would make this mistake again. (Why U.S. News doesn’t notice is another matter.)
- Southern University Law Center’s graduate debt spiked from $21,911 last year to $80,542 this year, indicating it’d been misreporting in previous years. Credit for the correction, discredit for misreporting in previous years.
- University of District of Columbia reported its average graduate debt for the first time in three years.
- University of Indiana-Indianapolis reported its average graduate debt for the first time in four years.
- No law school that reported its average graduate debt omitted the percent of graduates who had student loan debt. This had occurred in previous years but not this year.
I don’t know why law schools neglect to report their average graduate debt levels. If I were paranoid, I’d say that it makes high-debt/poor-outcome schools look unappealing, and since there’s no punishment for not reporting, they don’t. I do think it’s bad for law schools to not report average debt levels, and the high number of non-reports this year doesn’t make law schools look particularly transparent in general.
[UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the numbers thrown around here are average amounts borrowed and not average indebtedness, which would include accrued interest.]
Do you know the wording of the question US News asks about debt? They represent it as “average indebtedness,” but I suspect they are actually reporting the dollars borrowed–which, since interest begins accruing immediately, is much less than the average indebtedness at graduation. (The Georgetown debt calculator is actually very helpful for seeing how much the debt grows while in law school).
I believe you’re correct. U.S. News is publishing average amounts borrowed, not indebtedness, which means these numbers exclude accrued interest. I meant to include point that but forgot. Thanks for bringing it up.
I believe the accrued interest on three years of unsubsidized Stafford loans ($61,500 less fees) for this class is about $10,000. It’ll be much more for Grad PLUS loans to the extent law students borrowed those.
Good work, as usual.
Lies, damn lies and statistics
In the end, these toilets are simply trying to conceal high levels of student debt for their grossly overpriced product. Those who are industrious will now head to other sources, likely LST’s debt figures for graduates of ABA-accredited commodes.
Arizona Summit has the following info on its web page:
The median cumulative program debt for Arizona Summit Law School graduates between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 is as follows:
•Federal student loan debt: $184,825
•Private student loan debt: $0.00
•Institutional financial plan debt: $0.00
Looks like Infilaw doesn’t exactly have its “messaging strategy” quite in order.
BTW, you can estimate average actual law school debt for graduates by tacking on 12% for debt totals of less than $100K, 15% for debt of 100K to 150K, and 18% for debt of more than $150K. This is based on Stafford and GRADPLUS loan rates while 2013 grads were in school.
Thanks for the info. It’s almost too bad that the changes to the interest rate formulas mean we can’t use those exact percentages going forward.