So Just How Far Off Were My Tuition Projections?

Back in February 2011 I made a bold prediction: Full-time tuition costs at private ABA law schools would increase.

Talk about sticking to your guns and throwing conventional wisdom out the window!

But enough self-congratulations and I-told-you-sos. I offered projections for each law school, which proved so popular that a handful of Web sites even reported on them, motivating me to update them annually. Although I’m always pleased to receive positive press, I ceased making new projections when it became clear that tuition growth was going to slow down due to the applicant crash. (Also, the methodology posts were mind-numbing to write.) No tweaks to the methodology would create accurate results, so that was that. Nevertheless, time has passed; we’ve caught up to the first projections, and I’m curious how far off (or on?) they were. Maybe we’ll learn a lesson.

My original projection methodology estimated that mean-average private-law-school tuition (excluding the two private Puerto Rico schools, as always) would rise from $38,097 in 2010 to $47,598 (25 percent) by the 2015-16 academic year. Later, I believed that methodology produced results that were too inaccurate, so I revised it, giving a mean-average tuition of $46,341 (22 percent) by 2015.

These growth rates are impressive, and when I offered them I chose not to adjust them to inflation because I didn’t want to predict inflation and I was convinced that consumer-price inflation wasn’t really playing much of a role in law-school tuition anyway. In fact, the consumer price index has only risen by 8.7 percent in this five-year time period. In hindsight it may’ve been appropriate to compare tuition to the CPI’s higher-education cost index, but I think no one is worse off.

So how did I do? Thanks to the ABA’s 509 information reports, I get $44,413 mean-average tuition at the private law schools that were around in 2010—and were private law schools in 2010, for some have been socialized, e.g. Texas A&M, which used to be Texas Wesleyan. On average, tuition is 17 percent higher than 2010, so my average was high by 4 percent. Yikes, but at least the savings went to law students.

But as we learned once again recently, the mean average isn’t useful without the dispersion. Yeah, that damn average is made up of real observations that may indicate patterns of their own. So here’s the variance.

Percent Variance of Projected Private-Law-School Tuition (2015)

You can see there are a few outliers, which I’ll go into, but overall, the horizontal zero line cuts fairly closely through the body of the points. In fact, the median projection was off by less than 3 percent. Variances below the zero line, however, tend to clump together more.

So who are these outliers?

No. 1 is La Verne (82.5%), which gave up on merit scholarships a few years back in favor of flat costs for all. I figured it’d charge $48,027 in 2015, but in fact it cost $26,323. You can take this as evidence that tuition can’t go up forever.

No. 2 is the school I thought would’ve been number 1, Faulkner (45.6%), which doubled its price tag within a few years of receiving ABA accreditation. This was certain to throw off my methodology, so no one believed it would cost $51,045 today. Still, I didn’t expect it to go up by only 13 percent since 2010 ($35,050). That barely beats inflation.

No. 3 is a school I didn’t expect to see on the list, Ohio Northern (41.5%), which cut its tuition from $31,264 in 2010 to $26,030. I thought it’d charge only $36,820.

No. 4 is another unexpected tuition reducer, Roger Williams (33.3%), which costs $34,596 now rather than the $46,128 I expected.

Nos. 5 and 6, Elon (24.8%) and New Hampshire (23.2%), barely raised their tuition at all, so it’s no wonder their projections were off.

No. 7 is another tuition reducer on the list, Brooklyn (23.1%), now $46,176 when I thought it’d be $56,862. It charges only 1 percent less than in 2010, and that’s nominal dollars.

I’m not going through the rest, but the one law school I expected to see further up was New England (11.5%) because like Faulkner it raised its costs by quite a bit in the mid-2000s. I guess it just kept going. Finally, among the for-profits, Arizona Summit, Atlanta’s John Marshall, Charleston, and Charlotte all came in below their projections by at least 10 percent. Florida Coastal and Western State overshot theirs by about 5 percent.

The bottom-end variances aren’t as noteworthy, but congratulations are in order to the most expensive law school in the land, Columbia (-3.7%), for raising its costs more than I thought. A bunch of other expensive, well-regarded law schools also outdid my methodology. Good job. Not.

However, that lone dot way below the zero line at $47,980 is … WMU Cooley (-23.4%). I thought it would charge only $36,680. I’m not in the mood to research why it jacked its price tag so much, but it probably has to do with the school’s large part-time program. Maybe it’s trying to deter people from the full-time program?

Overall, I would’ve guessed the median variance would’ve been over 3 percent, but in general the projections tended to skew higher rather than find their marks. Meanwhile, I count 28 law schools (about one-fourth of them) that varied from their projection within the -2-to-2 percent band. That’s about $900 at the median law school.

In all, there was a nugget of accuracy to the initial projections, but I don’t take credit for predicting that; rather, I was right that the projections would overshoot reality. Private law schools slowed their tuition increases over the last five years. That’s small potatoes for the students though.

Below the fold, here’s a list of private law schools by cumulative cost increase between 2010 and 2015, along with information on their projected 2015 tuition.

# SCHOOL 2010 TUITION 2015 TUITION 2015 PROJECTED TUITION PCT. VARIANCE CHANGE 2015/2010
1. WMU Cooley 30,644 47,890 36,680 -23.4% +17,246
2. Baylor 40,904 55,547 53,596 -3.5% +14,643
3. Columbia 50,428 62,700 60,362 -3.7% +12,272
4. Chicago 46,185 58,065 54,641 -5.9% +11,880
5. Harvard 46,616 58,242 56,118 -3.6% +11,626
6. Notre Dame 40,805 52,372 49,050 -6.3% +11,567
7. New York University 48,213 59,330 57,171 -3.6% +11,117
8. Hofstra 43,660 54,250 52,939 -2.4% +10,590
9. Pennsylvania 48,362 58,918 58,040 -1.5% +10,556
10. Georgetown 45,105 55,255 53,924 -2.4% +10,150
11. George Washington 43,999 54,114 52,346 -3.3% +10,115
12. Duke 47,722 57,717 57,549 -0.3% +9,995
13. Pepperdine 41,210 51,180 49,096 -4.1% +9,970
14. Florida Coastal 34,712 44,620 42,154 -5.5% +9,908
15. Southern Methodist 40,186 49,962 48,658 -2.6% +9,776
16. Miami 38,024 47,774 44,835 -6.2% +9,750
17. Stanford 46,581 56,274 55,773 -0.9% +9,693
18. Southern California 48,434 58,022 58,380 +0.6% +9,588
19. Santa Clara 39,360 48,690 47,251 -3.0% +9,330
20. Southwestern 39,110 48,280 46,846 -3.0% +9,170
21. St. John’s 44,280 53,290 54,407 +2.1% +9,010
22. Tulane 42,144 51,130 50,260 -1.7% +8,986
23. John Marshall (Chicago) 36,920 45,780 44,756 -2.2% +8,860
24. Cornell 51,150 59,981 62,787 +4.7% +8,831
25. Northwestern 49,714 58,398 60,107 +2.9% +8,684
26. Boston University 40,838 49,330 48,451 -1.8% +8,492
27. Golden Gate 38,375 46,850 46,218 -1.3% +8,475
28. Pacific, McGeorge 39,989 48,274 48,305 +0.1% +8,285
29. Loyola (CA) 41,840 50,050 50,499 +0.9% +8,210
30. Case Western Reserve 40,560 48,732 49,296 +1.2% +8,172
31. Western State 35,190 43,350 41,667 -3.9% +8,160
32. Emory 43,392 51,510 52,174 +1.3% +8,118
33. Cardozo, Yeshiva 46,794 54,895 57,061 +3.9% +8,101
34. San Francisco 38,800 46,860 46,275 -1.2% +8,060
35. Chapman 40,173 48,150 48,593 +0.9% +7,977
36. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 36,036 43,966 48,363 +10.0% +7,930
37. Boston College 40,905 48,820 48,341 -1.0% +7,915
38. Drexel 34,450 42,270 41,850 -1.0% +7,820
39. Fordham 46,476 54,116 56,222 +3.9% +7,640
40. American 43,458 51,002 52,262 +2.5% +7,544
41. Washington University 44,125 51,626 53,145 +2.9% +7,501
42. Thomas Jefferson 38,700 46,200 47,155 +2.1% +7,500
43. San Diego 41,414 48,831 50,179 +2.8% +7,417
44. Howard 26,439 33,832 32,645 -3.5% +7,393
45. Duquesne 32,376 39,766 39,627 -0.3% +7,390
46. Denver 37,152 44,530 45,767 +2.8% +7,378
47. Yale 50,750 58,050 61,568 +6.1% +7,300
48. Loyola (LA) 36,196 43,410 43,789 +0.9% +7,214
49. Loyola (IL) 38,086 45,288 44,939 -0.8% +7,202
50. Campbell 32,280 39,475 38,891 -1.5% +7,195
51. Widener (Delaware) 34,890 41,994 41,863 -0.3% +7,104
52. Widener (Commonwealth) 34,890 41,994 41,863 -0.3% +7,104
53. Stetson 33,220 40,256 39,002 -3.1% +7,036
54. Catholic 40,000 46,815 46,776 -0.1% +6,815
55. Chicago-Kent, IIT 40,050 46,822 48,348 +3.3% +6,772
56. Hamline 33,506 40,128 40,785 +1.6% +6,622
57. Washington and Lee 39,937 46,497 49,831 +7.2% +6,560
58. Detroit Mercy 34,010 40,532 41,555 +2.5% +6,522
59. Willamette 31,130 37,625 36,925 -1.9% +6,495
60. St. Mary’s 28,160 34,640 33,633 -2.9% +6,480
61. California Western 40,780 47,260 49,594 +4.9% +6,480
62. Whittier 37,975 44,370 45,266 +2.0% +6,395
63. Charlotte 34,990 41,348 47,545 +15.0% +6,358
64. Drake 32,514 38,866 39,279 +1.1% +6,352
65. Lewis and Clark 35,098 41,328 42,333 +2.4% +6,230
66. DePaul 39,350 45,450 47,764 +5.1% +6,100
67. St. Thomas (FL) 33,082 39,178 38,233 -2.4% +6,096
68. Vanderbilt 45,286 51,360 54,695 +6.5% +6,074
69. Marquette 36,300 42,270 44,118 +4.4% +5,970
70. Seton Hall 45,058 51,018 56,123 +10.0% +5,960
71. Richmond 34,070 39,950 40,493 +1.4% +5,880
72. Villanova 36,690 42,540 44,240 +4.0% +5,850
73. Vermont 42,220 47,983 52,195 +8.8% +5,763
74. William Mitchell 33,800 39,560 40,927 +3.5% +5,760
75. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] 27,440 33,092 33,113 +0.1% +5,652
76. New England 39,990 45,606 50,849 +11.5% +5,616
77. Pace 39,794 45,376 47,437 +4.5% +5,582
78. Mississippi College 28,070 33,630 34,566 +2.8% +5,560
79. Wake Forest 37,230 42,738 44,494 +4.1% +5,508
80. Atlanta’s John Marshall 32,965 38,450 42,380 +10.2% +5,485
81. Northeastern 41,066 46,520 49,041 +5.4% +5,454
82. Nova Southeastern 32,607 37,985 38,351 +1.0% +5,378
83. Quinnipiac 42,740 48,049 52,351 +9.0% +5,309
84. Michigan State 34,045 39,353 42,316 +7.5% +5,308
85. Ave Maria 36,448 41,706 45,322 +8.7% +5,258
86. Tulsa 30,320 35,529 36,344 +2.3% +5,209
87. Suffolk 41,120 46,042 49,888 +8.4% +4,922
88. Touro 41,070 45,950 50,115 +9.1% +4,880
89. Creighton 31,386 36,258 37,873 +4.5% +4,872
90. Seattle 37,330 41,900 45,601 +8.8% +4,570
91. Charleston 35,606 40,116 44,264 +10.3% +4,510
92. Western New England 36,854 40,954 44,583 +8.9% +4,100
93. Capital 32,074 36,160 39,390 +8.9% +4,086
94. Faulkner 31,020 35,050 51,045 +45.6% +4,030
95. Samford 33,155 37,096 39,600 +6.8% +3,941
96. Gonzaga 32,775 36,510 38,841 +6.4% +3,735
97. St. Louis 35,475 39,195 42,450 +8.3% +3,720
98. Valparaiso 36,800 40,372 45,146 +11.8% +3,572
99. Regent 31,410 34,890 38,476 +10.3% +3,480
100. Brigham Young 20,560 23,940 26,260 +9.7% +3,380
101. Albany 40,120 43,398 49,209 +13.4% +3,278
102. Barry 32,650 35,844 38,894 +8.5% +3,194
103. South Texas 26,340 29,490 30,976 +5.0% +3,150
104. Appalachian 28,325 31,325 35,061 +11.9% +3,000
105. New York Law School 46,460 49,240 57,002 +15.8% +2,780
106. Liberty 29,120 31,562 35,414 +12.2% +2,442
107. Syracuse 45,126 47,178 54,885 +16.3% +2,052
108. Dayton 33,674 35,665 39,924 +11.9% +1,991
109. St. Thomas (MN) 36,313 37,941 45,342 +19.5% +1,628
110. Mercer 35,695 37,260 43,170 +15.9% +1,565
111. Elon 32,600 33,334 41,600 +24.8% +734
112. Oklahoma City 33,925 34,330 42,005 +22.4% +405
113. New Hampshire 37,000 37,383 46,045 +23.2% +383
114. Brooklyn 46,635 46,176 56,862 +23.1% -459
115. Roger Williams 38,010 34,596 46,128 +33.3% -3,414
116. Ohio Northern 31,264 26,030 36,820 +41.5% -5,234
117. La Verne 38,462 26,323 48,027 +82.5% -12,139
Minimum 20,560 23,940 26,260 -23.4% -12,139
10th Percentile 31,130 34,596 36,925 -3.5% +2,442
25th Percentile 33,800 39,178 41,600 -1.0% +4,880
Median 38,010 44,620 46,218 +2.8% +6,495
75th Percentile 41,840 49,330 51,045 +8.9% +8,210
90th Percentile 46,581 55,547 56,222 +15.8% +9,995
Maximum 51,150 62,700 62,787 +82.5% +17,246
Mean 38,097 44,413 46,341 +5.3% +6,316

Fin.

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