Which Law Schools Are Like Whittier?

Whittier Law School announced it will no longer enroll 1L classes but will graduate the students it has. It is the first fully accredited law school that is straight up closing, i.e. it isn’t merging with another school or finding some other way out of its problems. It’s going for good.

Whittier is not the school I would’ve predicted to be the first to close. Certainly it was in a high-risk category, but I thought others were in direr straits, and Whittier isn’t even freestanding. Charlotte lost its federal loan funding. The ABA censured Valparaiso (pdf), put Arizona Summit on probation (pdf), and told Ave Maria it was out of compliance with its standards (pdf). La Verne lost its provisional accreditation once, and the fates of (un)merged Camden and Penn-State Dickinson appear sealed. Indiana Tech immolated on the launch pad. These days the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s Web site looks more like an academic police blotter than an accrediting body’s homepage.

The question all this raises is: What law schools might be in situations similar to Whittier’s?

We can answer by comparing Whittier to other law schools on various dimensions, particularly debt, employment outcomes, and estimated revenue from full-time students paying full tuition. (Others have already done most of the work on bar-passage rates.)

This past year, U.S. News ranked Whittier as number two for average disbursed graduate debt, $179,056, but its figure was 20 percent higher than last year. It’s a volatile measure, but this year some of its notable nearest neighbors were Thomas Jefferson, San Francisco, American, Golden Gate, John Marshall (Chicago), and Florida Coastal. Most of these law schools featured prominently on debt rankings in previous years.

A couple years ago, I applied the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule to all law schools—not just for-profits—and found that Whittier’s 2014 graduates would need to earn more than $80,000 to avoid a failing grade. Four years of failing would mean losing access to federal funding, and nearly a quarter of Whittier’s graduates were totally unemployed after graduating. That figure hasn’t improved since (~23 percent for class of 2015 grads). We’ll soon learn how bad the class of 2016 is doing, but Whittier’s full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required employment rate has been so abysmal that it ranks near the three law schools in Puerto Rico. (Yes, bar-passage rates feed into this outcome.)

The one metric where Whittier wasn’t doing as badly as many other (private) law schools was its cumulative losses in tuition revenue from full-time students. In 2015-16, it took in nearly $6 million, but in 2011-12 it received $13.5 million. The 56 percent drop puts it at number 64 among private law schools (though the top schools, Vermont, Brooklyn, WMU Cooley, and California Western, reported more students receiving grants than they had full-time students, which would probably bump Whittier up a few notches). 56 percent is rough, but a bunch of private law schools lost even larger shares of money—and some took in only a few hundred thousand dollars in full-time tuition revenue last year.

Here’s what the situation looks like for all private law schools, sorted by the percent decline. Note that for once, I am including the two private law schools in Puerto Rico because I feel their performance is indicative of the worst. These figures are adjusted for inflation.

REVENUE FROM FULL-TIME STUDENTS PAYING FULL-TUITION
# SCHOOL 2011 2015 CUMULATIVE LOSS PERCENT CHANGE
1. Vermont 10,860,119 -5,422,079 -16,282,198 -149.9%
2. Brooklyn 10,782,779 -3,509,376 -14,292,155 -132.5%
3. WMU Cooley 1,557,772 -478,900 -2,036,672 -130.7%
4. California Western 25,045,967 -897,940 -25,943,907 -103.6%
5. St. Thomas (MN) 5,743,284 37,941 -5,705,343 -99.3%
6. Appalachian 9,093,131 125,300 -8,967,831 -98.6%
7. Washington and Lee 6,903,362 185,988 -6,717,374 -97.3%
8. Tulsa 4,599,211 142,116 -4,457,095 -96.9%
9. DePaul 14,469,813 681,750 -13,788,063 -95.3%
10. Albany 19,114,661 1,952,910 -17,161,751 -89.8%
11. Widener (Commonwealth) 9,036,506 965,862 -8,070,644 -89.3%
12. New York Law School 41,803,974 4,530,080 -37,273,894 -89.2%
13. Northeastern 4,283,568 511,720 -3,771,848 -88.1%
14. Syracuse 8,186,463 1,132,272 -7,054,191 -86.2%
15. Florida Coastal 33,851,726 4,908,200 -28,943,526 -85.5%
16. Duquesne 12,035,146 1,749,704 -10,285,442 -85.5%
17. Ohio Northern 8,637,468 1,301,500 -7,335,968 -84.9%
18. Pacific, McGeorge 11,571,986 1,786,138 -9,785,848 -84.6%
19. Campbell 15,454,205 2,407,975 -13,046,230 -84.4%
20. Regent 2,904,848 453,570 -2,451,278 -84.4%
21. Mercer 15,437,642 2,719,980 -12,717,662 -82.4%
22. Lewis and Clark 8,873,433 1,611,792 -7,261,641 -81.8%
23. Case Western Reserve 8,801,033 1,705,620 -7,095,413 -80.6%
24. St. Louis 18,241,963 3,605,940 -14,636,023 -80.2%
25. Southern California 15,531,071 3,075,166 -12,455,905 -80.2%
26. Charleston 10,513,451 2,206,380 -8,307,071 -79.0%
27. Faulkner 7,911,732 1,822,600 -6,089,132 -77.0%
28. Seton Hall 13,687,741 3,163,116 -10,524,625 -76.9%
29. Southern Methodist 6,211,571 1,448,898 -4,762,673 -76.7%
30. Charlotte 35,712,406 8,517,688 -27,194,718 -76.1%
31. Catholic 10,588,407 2,528,010 -8,060,397 -76.1%
32. Dayton 8,333,640 1,997,240 -6,336,400 -76.0%
33. Wake Forest 7,890,988 1,923,210 -5,967,778 -75.6%
34. Ave Maria 9,074,461 2,293,830 -6,780,631 -74.7%
35. Widener (Delaware) 15,458,193 3,989,430 -11,468,763 -74.2%
36. Western State 5,821,292 1,517,250 -4,304,042 -73.9%
37. Loyola (LA) 15,784,287 4,123,950 -11,660,337 -73.9%
38. Touro 11,489,969 3,078,650 -8,411,319 -73.2%
39. Quinnipiac 4,800,111 1,297,323 -3,502,788 -73.0%
40. Boston University 9,809,602 2,762,480 -7,047,122 -71.8%
41. Gonzaga 4,965,149 1,423,890 -3,541,259 -71.3%
42. Golden Gate 14,318,443 4,263,350 -10,055,093 -70.2%
43. Chicago-Kent, IIT 12,104,788 3,979,870 -8,124,918 -67.1%
44. Pace 11,888,268 3,993,088 -7,895,180 -66.4%
45. Atlanta’s John Marshall 16,084,711 5,613,700 -10,471,011 -65.1%
46. Mississippi College 12,823,594 4,506,420 -8,317,174 -64.9%
47. Washington University 11,705,942 4,181,706 -7,524,236 -64.3%
48. Stetson 22,598,743 8,212,224 -14,386,519 -63.7%
49. Valparaiso 15,710,039 5,732,824 -9,977,215 -63.5%
50. Northwestern 28,591,723 10,570,038 -18,021,685 -63.0%
51. Fordham 38,473,640 14,340,740 -24,132,900 -62.7%
52. Oklahoma City 10,178,065 3,810,630 -6,367,435 -62.6%
53. Elon 3,280,392 1,233,358 -2,047,034 -62.4%
54. Capital 7,447,505 2,820,480 -4,627,025 -62.1%
55. Cardozo, Yeshiva 21,942,175 8,838,095 -13,104,080 -59.7%
56. John Marshall (Chicago) 25,576,716 10,437,840 -15,138,876 -59.2%
57. Villanova 13,909,852 5,785,440 -8,124,412 -58.4%
58. Thomas Jefferson 17,301,310 7,207,200 -10,094,110 -58.3%
59. Samford 11,286,294 4,822,480 -6,463,814 -57.3%
60. Santa Clara 16,091,642 6,913,980 -9,177,662 -57.0%
61. San Diego 19,178,183 8,350,101 -10,828,082 -56.5%
62. Roger Williams 12,099,840 5,362,380 -6,737,460 -55.7%
63. St. John’s 18,866,076 8,366,530 -10,499,546 -55.7%
64. Whittier 13,502,174 5,989,950 -7,512,224 -55.6%
65. Seattle 15,747,526 7,248,700 -8,498,826 -54.0%
66. Creighton 7,850,075 3,625,800 -4,224,275 -53.8%
67. Hofstra 23,812,510 11,012,750 -12,799,760 -53.8%
68. Drexel 2,205,873 1,056,750 -1,149,123 -52.1%
69. Drake 6,852,106 3,342,476 -3,509,630 -51.2%
70. Vanderbilt 5,452,630 2,670,720 -2,781,910 -51.0%
71. Loyola (CA) 29,845,203 14,914,900 -14,930,303 -50.0%
72. Detroit Mercy 15,782,962 7,903,740 -7,879,222 -49.9%
73. Michigan State 12,439,389 6,453,892 -5,985,497 -48.1%
74. Tulane 13,779,350 7,311,590 -6,467,760 -46.9%
75. Barry 6,669,908 3,727,776 -2,942,132 -44.1%
76. Chicago 12,401,406 7,083,930 -5,317,476 -42.9%
77. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 12,828,297 7,562,152 -5,266,145 -41.1%
78. St. Thomas (FL) 16,799,445 9,990,390 -6,809,055 -40.5%
79. South Texas 17,958,443 10,704,870 -7,253,573 -40.4%
80. Pontifical Catholic 8,442,917 5,132,426 -3,310,491 -39.2%
81. Nova Southeastern 24,168,295 14,852,135 -9,316,160 -38.5%
82. Marquette 11,533,718 7,312,710 -4,221,008 -36.6%
83. Miami 34,008,712 21,832,718 -12,175,994 -35.8%
84. San Francisco 15,483,541 10,028,040 -5,455,501 -35.2%
85. Western New England 3,630,743 2,375,332 -1,255,411 -34.6%
86. Chapman 13,208,102 8,859,600 -4,348,502 -32.9%
87. New England 12,668,264 8,665,140 -4,003,124 -31.6%
88. Suffolk 27,272,730 18,739,094 -8,533,636 -31.3%
89. Cornell 18,586,044 12,775,953 -5,810,091 -31.3%
90. Boston College 16,102,424 11,277,420 -4,825,004 -30.0%
91. Inter American 6,898,330 5,040,051 -1,858,279 -26.9%
92. Loyola (IL) 4,583,328 3,351,312 -1,232,016 -26.9%
93. Southwestern 20,968,555 15,449,600 -5,518,955 -26.3%
94. American 31,922,411 23,868,936 -8,053,475 -25.2%
95. Notre Dame 7,908,972 5,918,036 -1,990,936 -25.2%
96. Denver 17,465,736 14,026,950 -3,438,786 -19.7%
97. Emory 8,896,804 7,211,400 -1,685,404 -18.9%
98. Richmond 7,438,055 6,232,200 -1,205,855 -16.2%
99. Georgetown 52,209,277 43,872,470 -8,336,807 -16.0%
100. Baylor 5,148,380 4,777,042 -371,338 -7.2%
101. St. Mary’s 14,146,074 13,128,560 -1,017,514 -7.2%
102. Columbia 38,452,666 35,989,800 -2,462,866 -6.4%
103. Yale 15,515,266 14,918,850 -596,416 -3.8%
104. New York University 46,942,488 46,870,700 -71,788 -0.2%
105. Pennsylvania 22,739,776 23,802,872 1,063,096 4.7%
106. Willamette 3,947,758 4,251,625 303,867 7.7%
107. George Washington 32,385,362 35,444,670 3,059,308 9.4%
108. Pepperdine 11,117,822 12,539,100 1,421,278 12.8%
109. Harvard 41,997,217 51,660,654 9,663,437 23.0%
110. Duke 3,507,038 5,136,813 1,629,775 46.5%
111. Howard 5,501,024 8,221,176 2,720,152 49.4%
112. Stanford 11,569,636 17,613,762 6,044,126 52.2%
113. Liberty 96,858 189,372 92,514 95.5%
114. La Verne 171,882 3,369,344 3,197,462 1860.3%
115. Belmont 4,805,640 N/A N/A
116. Concordia 203,301 N/A N/A
118. Indiana Tech 94,080 N/A N/A
119. Lincoln Memorial 387,480 N/A N/A
TOTAL 1,672,895,574 849,546,398 -828,839,677 -49.2%
10TH PERCENTILE 4,583,328 203,301 -14,636,023 -89.3%
25TH PERCENTILE 7,890,988 1,822,600 -10,094,110 -76.9%
MEDIAN 12,253,097 4,518,250 -6,759,046 -58.4%
75TH PERCENTILE 17,465,736 8,517,688 -3,438,786 -32.9%
90TH PERCENTILE 29,845,203 14,918,850 -371,338 -3.8%
MEAN 14,674,523 7,199,546 -7,270,523 -36.3%

(Source: ABA, author’s calculations)

Obviously full-time, full-tuition revenue doesn’t tell all of the story—and not just for part-time-focused operations like WMU Cooley—but it definitely illustrates the kind of circumstances many private law schools find themselves in. The same must be true for public law schools. It’s in this context that we can ponder the solvency of other at-risk law schools. Whittier is the first big closure, but it won’t be the last. Universities whose law schools are losing lots of money and have poor employment and bar-passage outcomes are watching Whittier and its neighbors.

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7 comments

  1. Organizations exists to perpetuate themselves. An organization will only close when its continued existence threatens the existence of a larger organization with the power to close it.

    So, the ones like Whittier are likely to be struggling private law schools that are a part of small private colleges, just like Whittier and Hamline and Indiana Tech were. Perhaps Valpo, or Elon or Faulkner or Northern Ohio, or Chapman, or Concordia or Widner or Drexel or ….? Or perhaps the Infilaw schools, if one considers them to be part of the Infilaw and not stand-alone schools.

    Appalachian, while a stand-alone law school and not part of a small private college, may close at is just running out of students — any students.

  2. Great job wringing this data out of the 509s. The data shows the widespread discounting of law school tuition and that in turn shows a really clear picture that the perceived value of the JD from most U.S. law schools is in sharp decline. And that the bottom-feeder schools are truly bottom-feeders, as they prey on the academically weakest, who end up paying the most money (and piling up the most debt) to obtain the most worthless of law degrees which lead to, ironically enough, no career as a lawyer.
    The only way this exploitation is going to stop is if Uncle Sam stops the no-questions-asked easy access to the piles of money that feed the scam. Had Uncle done so back in 2010, there would be tens of thousands fewer people hopelessly mired in law-school debt.

  3. Excellent analysis. Thanks for providing this data. I’m shocked that LaVerene, a perpetual 4th tier dump, has somehow been able to beat the system and sustain profitability. That aside, there are a lot of institutions that are in big trouble. Crooklyn has been a notorious trap school since the scam blogging movement’s inception. Not only are they hemorrhaging money, they aren’t attached to a university that can bail them out. It would be nice if they end up being the next scam school to fall.

    1. Thanks, Esq. Never. The table doesn’t show profitability. It only shows the decline in full-tuition revenue. Everyone receiving a less-than-half-tuition scholarship is taking up the slack at these schools, to a degree. La Verne in particular stopped scholarships altogether; that’s why it’s taking in more money from its full-tuition students.

    2. Didn’t LaVerne also recently gain ABA accreditation, meaning it can charge more for its degree?

      1. La Verne was first provisionally accredited in 2006. A few years ago it lost its accreditation for a few months, but for mysterious reasons the ABA relented and gave it back. More recently, it decided to charge everyone full tuition and stop playing the grant game. As a result, its nominal tuition fell from $42,352 in 2013 to $27,256 this past year.

  4. Don’t forget Santa Clara University. The law school is ranked 132nd greatest, most phenomenal in the country, whereas the parent university has a good reputation.

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