Month: January 2019

2017: Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition *Rises* By 0.4 Percentage Points

Discussions of law-school costs are incomplete if they do not account for discounts some students receive, usually merit scholarships paid for by their full-tuition-paying classmates. To analyze the phenomenon of discounting, I focus on the ABA’s 509 information reports’ scholarship data. This information lags the academic year by one year, so as of the 2018-19 academic year, we now have data on 2017-18.

At the average law school not in Puerto Rico in 2017, the proportion of full-time students paying full tuition rose by 0.4 percentage points from 25.4 percent to 25.8 percent. At the median law school less than one quarter of students pay full tuition.

The proportion of students paying full tuition has fallen considerably over the years. At the turn of the century, more than half of students paid full cost; now about a quarter do.

At private law schools, which are easier to analyze because they don’t price discriminate in favor of resident students, the average number of students receiving grants ranging between half and full tuition again exceeds the number paying full tuition. Many more receive a grant worth less-than-half tuition, though their numbers are diminishing.


One advantage of knowing how many full-time students pay full tuition is that we can estimate the total revenue they generate for private law schools, except Brigham Young University, which charges LDS students less.

Since 2011, the peak year, inflation-adjusted revenue from full-tuition-paying full-time students has fallen 53 percent. Since 2001, the last year for which data are available, the drop is 32 percent. In 2017, the median private law school’s full-tuition revenue was $4.3 million, down from $12.8 million in 2011 but up 7 percent since 2016. In 2001, the median was $9.5 million. This is quite a decline.

So how substantially are private law schools discounting? The best way to answer that question is by using the sticker price at private law schools as the independent variable, and treating as the dependent variable their tuition after subtracting their median grant (median-discounted tuition “MDT”). First I divide private law schools into full tuition quintiles and give their mean averages. Then I take mean of the MDTs within each quintile.

We find that while full tuition inexorably climbs upward and disperses, the MDTs are trending downward and together, indicating significant discounting. Notably, the MDT at the most expensive law schools is about as much as full tuition at the cheapest private law schools.

That’s all for now; on to the shaming and ridiculing.

Raspberries: I’m giving out three raspberries to law schools for clearly misreporting scholarship data to the ABA:

  • Number 1 goes to Mitchell|Hamline for reporting 482 full-time students receiving scholarships out of … 473 full time students. Those -9 full-time students receiving breaks to their tuition must be truly exceptional. I should add that Mitchell|Hamline made the same mistake last year with only one full-time law student receiving a grant or scholarship in excess of its full-time enrollment. According to U.S. News it had 481 full-time students, which is still one short.
  • The second raspberry goes to Texas Southern for not reporting any median grant information. As a public law school it luckily doesn’t affect any of the above calculations, but it’s still lazy misreporting by a law school.
  • Finally, Regent also has 196 out of 195 full-time students receiving a grant or scholarship, for a truly blessed -1 full-time student. U.S. News has it at 218 for last year.

Honorary mention goes to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions for the Bar for discontinuing reporting full-time and part-time student enrollment each year. Leaving it to the grant and scholarship data means that there isn’t a good way to double-check law schools’ errors and discontinues a dataset it’s reliably collected for decades.

Information on this topic from previous years:

2018: Full-Time Private Law-School Tuition Up 3.1 Percent

Despite arbitrary data meddling by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and significant misreporting by law schools, I will estimate changes in annual (as in what people care about and what the ABA no longer collects) full-time law-school tuition for 2018. The appendix at the end of the post will summarize how I arrived at my tuition figures. However, I’m still disgusted by how the law schools and the ABA have handled this year’s data collection. On with the show:

Full-time tuition costs at private law schools not in Puerto Rico rose an average 3.1 percent before adjusting for inflation. The rate is about the same as last year’s increase, but it’s still well below the typical 5 percent rate before the Great Recession. For seven years now, the average increase has been below 4 percent. 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 inflation-adjusted dispersion of full-time private and full-time public (residential) tuition looks like going back to 1996:

For the last few years I’ve been eyeballing the 25th-percentile public law school’s residential tuition to see if it will rise above the annual Stafford Loan limit of $20,500. In 2018 it fell not even $200 shy of that symbolic line of unaffordability. By my estimates, 16 out of 117 private law schools charge more than $60,000. Ever the leader, Columbia was $84 short of charging $70,000. Next year it will likely have raised its costs by $20,000 in ten years.

In 2018, the median private law school charged $48,166 (DePaul); the mean was $48,383 (between John Marshall (Chicago) and Vermont).


It’s 2019. Where’s My ‘Hyperinflationary Great Depression’?

[The following post first appeared on this site on January 1, 2012. What it said then still applies today, mutatis mutandis. Thanks for reading the blog and have a prosperous 2019!]

Behold, the curse of a long memory. Last January [2011], Google Alerts sent me an e-mail informing me that the National Inflation Association (“Preparing Americans for Hyperinflation”) issued a press release predicting that the higher ed bubble was “set to burst beginning in mid-2011. This bursting bubble will have effects that are even more far-reaching than the bursting of the Real Estate bubble in 2006.” The NIA press release then digressed into legal education (I’m guessing they’d just read David Segal’s first NYT piece a few days earlier), how evil lawyers are, how they produce nothing for society, and how 60 percent of the Senate and 37 percent of the House are lawyers who rig the economy to make jobs for lawyers. It editorializes:

“While everybody went to school to become a lawyer [really?], nobody went to school to become a farmer because Americans didn’t see any money in farming. With prices of nearly all agricultural commodities soaring through the roof in 2010 and with NIA expecting this trend to continue throughout 2011, the few new farmers out there are going to become rich while lawyers are standing at street corners with cups begging for money.”

The NIA would’ve been more helpful if it explained how lawyers could be a drain on society yet remain vulnerable to market forces. Also, one would think unemployed lawyers would try to find non-lawyer jobs instead of begging, but I think it’s important to note that agricultural prices weren’t “soaring through the roof” in 2010. They were growing, yes, but although the NIA was right that they continued to do so in 2011, (a) it’s stalled recently, and (b) they’re no worse than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Oh well. The NIA sternly concluded:

“We must work hard to educate America to the truth if our country is going to have the wherewithal to survive the upcoming bursting college bubble and Hyperinflationary Great Depression.”


I can’t say I’m quite as disappointed as the NIA undoubtedly is that we’re not seeing much inflation these days, and in mid-2011 I didn’t see many colleges cutting their tuition, laying off faculty, closing programs, or trying to retrench themselves. I also remain unconvinced that $1 trillion in student debt can be worse than $8 trillion in mortgage debt. True, student debt is not dischargeable (unlike mortgage deficiencies) absent a showing of an undue hardship, and it’s hampering the recovery and ruining lives, but it’s not worse in quantity than the housing bubble. As for the NIA’s paranoid ranting about lawyers, all economic evidence I’ve seen indicates that legal services have all but stagnated for much of the last two decades. Apparently, those 60 percent of lawyer-senators aren’t very good at creating work for themselves. I suppose the NIA should express appreciation.

Anyway, if anything, inflation would be a boon to underwater homeowners and student debtors because it erodes the real value of their debts, which grew significantly in the 2000s. Here’s household debt to GDP:

Importantly, I’m no macroeconomist but I’ve never heard of a “hyperinflationary depression.” The terms contradict each other. Depressions occur when people take on excessive debt and begin paying it down simultaneously instead of spending money on other things. This is deflationary because new credit isn’t being created, even by the government. By contrast, hyperinflation has only occurred in unusual circumstances, like when a government owes debts to foreigners in a different currency. Weimar Germany, for example, owed gold-dominated war reparations to the Allied powers, and to purchase the gold, it printed money, causing hyperinflation. Zimbabwe isn’t a good comparison either because it’s a small, HIV-ridden landlocked state with an undiversified, oligopolistic agrarian economy while the U.S. is a wealthy, continent-spanning super-state.

As for inflation fears generally, maybe it’s the fact that I have no memory of high inflation, but why isn’t there a “National Personal Income Association” (NPIA) that regularly celebrates increases in Americans’ per capita personal income?

“Per capita personal income has quadrupled since 1980! Prices didn’t even triple! Hooray! We’re rich! Fiat currency forever and ever! ‘You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!'”

I’m sure the NPIA wouldn’t’ve been too thrilled with 2008-09, but personal income is increasing again. The problem has just been that over the decades those gains haven’t been distributed equally. This isn’t a problem of inflation but one of wages and taxation.

Intuition tells me the NIA won’t spend early 2012 carefully discussing why the higher ed bubble didn’t burst in mid-2011 as it predicted, nor will it take the time to explain why Americans—many of whom are net debtors—should be concerned about inflation. Instead it will prophecy even more hyperinflation later. But here’s hoping the National Inflation Association won’t provide me entertainment come January 1, 2013. Such is the curse of a long memory.