No, It’s Not 1973 in Legal Education-Land (More Official Guide Errata)

…Wherever that is.

I’ve seen it reported in a bunch of places that the number of 1Ls has fallen to the lowest level since 1973. The good news (sort of, I guess) for the law schools is that this is incorrect. Starting last year, the ABA began reporting the number of “matriculating 1Ls,” instead of just the total in its press releases. There’s a difference: Some part-time 1Ls and others don’t make the transition to 2L-hood, but everyone who starts law school in a given calendar year are, of course, 1Ls.

In the ABA’s recent press release, it reported that 37,924 people “began their studies in the fall of 2014.” (Looking through the 509 Information Reports, I get 37,892 full-time and part-time matriculants for calendar year 2014, so there’s probably been a correction somewhere.) This is not the same thing as people who were 1Ls in calendar year 2014. Reporters should not be comparing the number of matriculants to the number of 1Ls, which was 37,018 in 1973.

So how many 1Ls were there this year? Well, the bad news is that there’s been enough misreporting by the law schools that I can’t give you a precise figure. Tallying up the total number of 1Ls in the J.D. enrollment boxes, I get 38,801. (1974 was 38,074, so we’re in 1975.) Adding up all the 1Ls by ethnicity, though, I get 38,917. Arizona Summit in particular messed up big because it somehow makes 411 1Ls by ethnicity equal 306 total. There are other culprits, but they’re not as bad: Cardozo (10), Wisconsin (5), South Dakota (4), Georgia State (3), and St. Mary’s (1).

Either way, there were still more 1Ls in 2014 than in 1974 but fewer than 1975.

Normally, the total number of 1Ls would appear in the pdfs on the ABA’s statistics page, but it wasn’t updated last year. In 2013 there were either 40,796 (by ethnicity) or 40,805 (total) 1Ls. That puts us in 1986 (40,195). This is not the same as the 39,675 matriculating 1Ls that the ABA reported for 2013.

I don’t expect reporter types to catch this kind of distinction—and it doesn’t change law schools’ situations much—but it means I get contrarian points, and you get the straight dope here first.

3 comments

  1. Maybe this is unrelated/ not relevant. On the enrollment/ matriculant distinction: I was shocked to see my law school’s “enrollment” of 1L’s starting in 2010 being reported in the high 300s.

    No. It was actually right about 550. I was there. We all knew what the number was. 5 1L sections with 100+ in each. How could I forget when in one class I literally had no place to sit because the seats were full up? Yet this category says “First Year Enrollment.” Just totally false.

    http://taxprof.typepad.com/files/ncbe-2.pdf

    1. To be fair she does use the word “matriculants” on page 4 of that pdf, but you’re right, the table’s title is wrong. I really hope this distinction doesn’t become more important.

      1. Well, I think it bears noting that the distinction you have lit upon between “enrolled” student and “matriculated” student is one invented/ selected for some purpose; it’s not a distinction existing in language. “Matriculated” does not mean went from first year to subsequent year in a degree-granting program in the English language. The OED says it means “enrolled.”

        So, why is this ‘distinction’ being put forward now with no fanfare?

        I also find it odd that someone would put a count of “matriculated” students correlating to 25% percentile LSAT scores for “enrolled” class (not the “matriculated” class). The percentile scores are those reported on Standard 509 disclosures. Does this mean that the LSAT scores reported on Standard 509 disclosures are ONLY those LSAT scores of students who remained after 1L year?

        In such an instance, the distinction would be critically important to the consumer, because a rational person would really wonder whether those students who did not “matriculate” anywhere post 1L (who simply dropped out) represented the lower end of the LSAT scores – thereby boosting, inflating the reported percentiles for the school and impeding shopping for a place one might be admitted…demanding a scholarship, etc.

        Also using “matriculate” versus “enrolled” masks attrition – something from which a shopper could infer a great deal.

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