Month: December 2017

2017: Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Up 3.2 Percent

Full-time tuition costs at private law schools rose an average 3.2 percent before adjusting for inflation. The rate is about half a point higher than last year’s increase, but it’s still well below the typical 5 percent rate before the Great Recession. For comparison, 2012 and 2013 saw increases of 3.7 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. I focus on private law-school tuition because public law schools receive varying degrees of state subsidies, so they do not reflect the already distorted legal-education market’s prices.

Here’s what the dispersion of full-time private and full-time public (residential) tuition looks like going back to 1996:

Last year I pondered whether the public law school at the 25th percentile would begin charging more than the Stafford Loan limit of $20,500. It’s still one thousand dollars shy of it—in fact, it fell by $200 after adjusting for inflation. As of now, 10 percent of private law schools (12) charge more than $60,000, with the maximum at $67,564 (Columbia). It was only back in 2012 that the top 10 percent charged over $50,000 in nominal dollars, +$10,000 in five years.

In 2017, the median private law school charged $47,071 (between Pace and Suffolk); the mean was $46,843.

Unusually, costs grew consistently among private law schools. If we separate the law schools into quintiles, here’re the increases at the mean of each quintile.

From 2014-16, the tuition increases were stacked towards the high end, which was consistent with the prediction that the cheaper law schools were so fiscally crunched that they couldn’t afford to raise their costs any more. 2017 clearly breaks that trend, and along with its moderate mean increase the growth is distributed fairly evenly among private law schools.

The following private law schools raised their tuition charges by more than 5 percent:

  • Widener (Delaware) (+12.0%)
  • Liberty (+10.8%)
  • La Verne (+10.2%)
  • Elon (+10.0%)
  • Brooklyn (+9.8%)
  • Belmont (+8.9%)
  • John Marshall (Atlanta) (+5.9%)
  • Mississippi College (+5.6%)
  • Mitchell|Hamline (+5.5%)
  • Capital (+5.4%)

I would be cruel to ignore private law schools that cut their full tuition, so here’s that meager list:

  • University of Tulsa (-33.6%)
  • Howard University (-10.4%)
  • Santa Clara University (-3.4%)
  • Whittier Law School (-2.2%)
  • Arizona Summit (-0.3%)

Yes, Tulsa’s one-third slash is the largest nominal tuition cut I can find going back to 1996. It beat Indiana Tech’s (-31.1 percent) last year (fat lot of good that did) and Ohio Northern’s (-26.4 percent) in 2014. Howard’s is fairly significant as well, particularly because in 2016 it raised tuition by 10.9 percent. Big raspberries go to Elon University which extended its students a -12.1 percent cut in 2015 only to mostly reverse it with a 10 percent hike this year.

Nine private law schools kept their full-tuition tags flat (Golden Gate, University of the Pacific, Western State, Ave Maria, St. Thomas (FL), Mercer, Illinois Institute of Technology, Western New England, and Vermont). Barry increased its costs by … $1.

Here are public law schools that cut their costs to resident students:

  • University of Illinois (-7.8%)
  • University of D.C. (-5.6%)
  • University of New Mexico (-5.3%)
  • Texas Tech University (-1.1%)

I note that D.C. and New Mexico both increased their costs last year by more than these decreases.

Overall, the size and character of the increases at private law schools was the same as last year, they were just distributed more evenly among law schools. The phenomenon of nominal tuition cuts is still marginal, and some schools appear to reverse their cuts shortly after instituting them.

Going forward, the thing to look out for is if Congress passes the PROSPER Act, which would cap federal loans to law students at $28,500 and fix a lifetime cap of $150,000 per student. If it does, then I predict that law schools will respond by serious restructuring: eliminating merit scholarships, slashing tuition to $28,500 plus whatever private lenders are willing to lend out, and getting rid of many faculty and their perks. I’m also sure many central universities will use the PROSPER Act as an opportunity to shut down their money-losing law schools.

Of course, this all assumes that the Bennett hypothesis is true, but AccessLex-funded research falsified it, so we all know law schools will raise their prices forever.

Full-time tuition costs don’t necessarily indicate what students are actually charged, but they do show how much rent law schools can extract from the government’s loan programs.

Information on this topic from prior years:

2017: Full-Time Applications Plummet

…Because the ABA’s standard 509 information reports no longer track them, which reminds me of the outrage directed at the ABA last summer for rubber-stamping one law professor’s vision for collecting and displaying employment data to the masses. For those into the cloak-and-dagger stuff, the Data Policy and Collection Committee was folded into the Standards Review Committee earlier this year, and it “reevaluated” the annual questionnaire it sends to law schools. You can read about it here (docx).

One of the bigger changes is eliminating the distinction between part-time and full-time law students wherever it could be found except in tuition costs (thankfully) and scholarship awards. This means that law schools that admit large numbers of part-time students, who tend not to do so well on the LSAT, can see their average LSAT scores nosedive. Also, instead of tracking calendar-year applications, offers, and matriculants, the reports now only measure October-October applications, offers, and … enrollees? Makes them sound like participants in unethical science experiments, but at least spellchecker can tolerate them.

Naturally, as someone who tracks ABA law-school data longitudinally going back to the Clinton administration, I think these changes are monumentally stupid, especially eliminating the full-time/part-time distinction. However, the ABA rarely announces these decisions openly and doesn’t have some kind of RSS feed for those of who care to track it. That’s probably an even dumber mistake.

So, going forward, when it comes to my first annual 509 post on law school … enrollees, I will use data for all law students. I’ve been able to reassemble the data going back to calendar-year 2011, but obviously the change in the data-collection year from “calendar year” to “admissions cycle” will distort the results somewhat (I doubt there are too many October-December enrollees). Too bad. Yell at the ABA.

By October 2017, there were 35,381 enrollees at 200 ABA-accredited law schools not in Puerto Rico, which probably didn’t have any enrollees left by October anyway. This is down 1,212 (-3.3 percent) from 36,593 in December 2016. Some of this is due to two law schools closing and one ceasing admissions. Charlotte (-343), Whittier (-132), and Indiana Tech (-41) together account for about 43 percent of the 1,212-enrollee drop.

In other words, aside from thinning the law-school herd, 2017 isn’t that different from 2016.

Application acceptance rates are a little lower. The median law school saw about 1.7 percent more applications than last year.

Sorry this isn’t as complete as in past years. I can’t spend a whole weekend hand-coding Official Guide info going back another twelve years.

Applicants showed trivially more interest in more law schools this year, according to my modified Lorenz curve. The overall Gini coefficient is down trivially this year to 0.427. (You can read about what that means here.)

A Lorenz curve measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the recipient of the smallest amount to the largest. Usually researchers use the distribution of income among households. I’ve modified the Lorenz curve according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the previous year because the rankings are an independent measurement of law-school eliteness as seen by LSAT takers and applicants roughly at the time that they apply. Here is what I could cobble together going back to 2011.

Given that applications were mostly flat this year, it’s unsurprising that there hasn’t been much change in the distribution of applications.

Next year, thanks to His Emolumence’s perfidy, we’ll have a kind of natural experiment of what happens when applications rise after everyone’s been told that law school is a bad idea. Will unheralded law schools benefit from the bump, or will our idealists apply strategically to top law schools? Will Grad PLUS loans go the way of the full-time matriculants? Find out next year.

This post consolidates information from multiple posts over previous years. You can read prior coverage at the following links.