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:
- “2016: Full-Time Students Paying Full Tuition Fell by 2.4 Percentage Points” (January 8, 2018)
- “2015: Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition Fell ~5 Percentage Points (Again)” (January 11, 2017)
- “Full-Time Students Paying Full Tuition Fell ~5 Percentage Points in 2014” (January 4, 2016)