Tuition Data

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.


Full-Time Students Paying Full Tuition Fell ~5 Percentage Points in 2014

Once upon a time, more than half of law students at the typical law school paid full tuition.

But that fairy tale is now over. Behold:

Percent Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition

I’m astonished. Now, only about a third of law students at the average law school pay full tuition. These schools must be hemorrhaging money given how much they’re fighting over applicants.

At the average private law school in 2014, there were more students who received less-than-half tuition grants than there were students given a full bill. It appears that in a couple years, even the half-to-full-tuition crowd will outnumber the full freighters—and this is last year’s data!

No. Full-Time Private Law School Students Per School by Grant Received

Speaking of hemorrhaging money, in 2014, full-time law students paying full tuition only contributed $1 billion to private law schools. This year, it’s probably less.

Aggregate Revenue From Full-Time Private Law School Students Paying Full-Tuition

Finally, here’s what tuition discounted by the median grant looks like at private law schools by the mean of their full tuition quintiles. The idea here is to set full tuition as the independent variable and let the discounted tuition float.

Full-Time Private Law School Tuition and Median Discounted Tuition by Tuition Quintile Mean

Percent Private Law School Students Receiving Median Grant by Full Tuition Quintile Mean

Last year, the mean discounted tuition among law schools in the second full-tuition quintile was lower than the third’s, meaning second-quintile schools are discounting much more than schools that nominally charge less. I think it’s trivial, but it indicates pricing competition.

That’s all for now.

Site Update 2015-06-01: Law School Cost Data Page

If you want to know why I haven’t been posting so often, it’s that I’ve been procrastinating! Woo!

I did, however, find time to update the comprehensive Law School Cost Data (1996-) page. Most of the effort is just revisiting law schools’ Web sites to ensure I have their full names correctly. As usual I forgot that law schools have a tendency to place images of attractive women on their main pages, so that wasn’t a total exercise in tediousness.

One thing to note that readers might not know is that even though Lincoln Memorial was accredited after the data submission deadline for 2014, it does have a 509 Information Report (pdf). However, its data are not included in the ABA’s required disclosures Web site, so if you’re into law school data, you’ll need to get that file separately and incorporate it into your spreadsheets.


Law School Cuts Its Tuition to Zero (and Other 509 Report Errata)

Students at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School were surprised to find their tuition was free for the 2014-15 academic year.

Free Tuition!

Such generosity!

That’s the most amusing error in the law school 509 Information Reports I’ve found thus far. The ABA doesn’t audit the data law schools provide it, so people using them might want to know when it’s obviously incorrect. I’m tallying up the ones I find, but I won’t do so exhaustively. I figure the ABA just runs a program that spits all the data into the reports automatically, so I’ll confine my teasing to the schools for the mistakes.

Atlanta’s John Marshall is one of two law schools that have tuition problems. For those curious, looking on John Marshall’s Web site I get $38,100 in tuition costs, $198 technology fees, $1,340 for health insurance, and $194 in student bar association costs ($39,832 total). This is largely consistent with its charges last year ($39,578).

Another law school with a tuition typo is St. Mary’s, whose 509 report says it charges $33,100 for resident and $33,110 for non-residents, a patent ambiguity that doesn’t make sense for a private law school. Worse, when I look at its Web site, I get $33,010 ($32,340 for tuition, $670 for fees). That’s the number I’m going to go with.

Readers might also be curious about law schools’ enrollment breakdowns. I don’t track the ethnicities of full-time and part-time students, but I did do get their totals as well as the genders and ethnicities of 1Ls, total enrollments, and graduates. These numbers usually add up across the table, but there are a few cases that I’ve found that don’t.

The biggest offender is SUNY-Buffalo, which accidentally totaled its male and female students in its “Other” column (a new addition to the reports this year) instead of the “Total” column. This causes significant arithmetical errors that end up doubling the school’s enrollment over the year before. I have SUNY-Buffalo with 547 full-time students, 10 part-time students, and zero “other” students.

The tables for San Francisco and Minnesota also do not total properly due to problems in the “Other” column. As I have it, San Francisco has 425 full-time students, 102 part-time students, and no “other” students (by enrollment, not gender). Minnesota has 681 full-time students, 17 part-time students, and zero “other” students (ditto).

It’s unclear, but I think most law schools that used the “other” category meant it for gender and enrollment status while these schools had one category but not the other.

Hopefully these errors will be corrected either by the law schools or the ABA.


While I have your attention, I thought I’d spill the beans on where undiscounted tuition costs went this year: pretty much nowhere. The median private law school charged about $200 more than last year in real dollars, but costs are moving up slightly on the very high end while nominal tuition cuts are manifesting at the low end of the scale. I can’t make a clear determination at this point, but anyone thinking that legal education is moving toward a two-tier market—one for cheaper law schools, the other for very expensive prestigious ones—might see this as year 1 for their hypothesis.

Full-Time Law School Tuition Dispersion (Excl. P.R., Constant $)

I suppose now’s the appropriate time to congratulate Columbia for being the first law school to breach the $60,000 mark. 23 others charge more than $50,000 annually, many of them are in U.S. News‘ top 20. In 2010, only three charged so much.

The next chart shows the overall slowdown of tuition cost growth over the last few years and the nominal declines within the lowest quintile.

Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Increases by Tuition Quintile Mean (Current $)

I haven’t done a full analysis yet, but I think only Iowa has seen any direct correlation between nominal cost cuts and an increase in applications (and that’s a public law school). The rest still saw declines.

Peace out.

Site Update: ‘Law School Tuition Data Going Back to 1996’…

…Can be found on the “LAW SCHOOL COST DATA (1996-)” page.

Formerly called ,”Tuition Increases at All ABA Law Schools (1999-),” or something like that, I’ve revised this site’s renowned tuition data page. Biggest changes include:

  • Tuition data for each law school going back to 1996 and up to 2013
  • Percentages of full-time students paying full tuition at each law school
  • Percentages of full-time students receiving the median grant or more at each law school (as stated in the Official Guide)
  • Tuition levels discounted by the median grant at private law schools that aren’t Brigham Young
  • A bunch of carefully sculpted dispersion charts and tables showing changes in law school tuition since 1985 or 1996 with the annual Stafford loan limit
  • And no tuition projections. I know they were popular. I know they gave me easy page views, but I don’t think any forward projection based on past data will be accurate anymore given that tuition increases are slowing down now. Also, the necessary methodology page was truly boring to write, and if anything, you folks deserve more “No Bubble, Just ROCK!!!” posts than me being bored on my own blog.

Don’t worry though, the URL is the same as before, so anyone linking to it will find the same information.

Tracking this kind of information on the back end is becoming harder as law schools (a) are socialized by public universities (meaning a change in status), (b) change their names (sometimes to sound more “hashtaggy”), and (c) contemplate splitting into multiple campuses. I’m sure consolidations are on the way as well. As it is, gathering their exact, full names was easily the most tedious aspect of this update. Easily.

Like, law schools, if you can hear me, please put your complete, full name on your main pages. Not in logos, and definitely not ending in “[law school name] Law” as though your school’s name is in fact the title of a law. To pick on one example, when I read “Wayne Law,” I thought about The Wonder Years taking place in a Michigan law school with Fred Savage, Jason Hervey, and Danica McKellar, the awesomest mathematician alive.

Which reminds me: Law schools, I’m into women as much as the next gynephile, but you do realize you put a lot of women on your main pages. There’s a certain … lack of originality to seeing attractive young women on the law school Web sites.

Wait, what am I complaining about? Strike that.

Okay, I should add—and this is very, very, very important—because the data page is so long (which is by design and I have no interest in changing) it doesn’t load well in Mozilla Firefox. If you scroll down far enough, at some point the screen turns black and the numbers are unreadable. It doesn’t crash the browser, but it doesn’t make the site easy to read. It does, however, work in Google Chrome. I don’t know if it works well on other browsers. Frankly, I don’t care at this point. Chrome is free; I prefer Firefox; whatever; we’re done here.

Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Projections for 2017, 2022

It’s the season for the LSTB’s perennial full-time private law school tuition projections. This is the third year I’ve made such projections, and I always try to improve the methodology to produce accurate and precise forecasts. The biggest changes this year are a large increase in source data—last year I scoured the Web for older copies of the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to the ABA Law Schools (Official Guide)—and I’ve improved the projections methodology.

In previous years, I forecasted future costs via linear regression based on law schools’ previous prices. I chose this model because it offered the lowest average costs, but it proved woefully imprecise. This year, I’ve changed to using law schools’ average annual (numeric) growth rates because it is both more accurate and precise than the linear regression methodology.

You can read about my test of the methodologies here.

As always, I exclude the two private law schools in Puerto Rico and Brigham Young’s tuition for LDS students. Unlike last year, though, I will not try to make projections for public-in-name-only law schools because there aren’t enough data to make reasonably accurate predictions. [Mini-update: The projections are in current dollars.]

Like last year, the “relative variance” column on the far right of the projections table is the percent difference between the law schools’ projected costs for 2012 (based on their 1999-2011 prices) and what they actually charged in 2012. The point is to provide an indicator for distinguishing between outliers and reasonably accurate projections. In 2012, the average private law school raised its price by less than in previous years, suggesting that going forward, costs will plateau. Here’s a chart of the distribution of tuition increases over the years.

Dispersal of Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Price IncreasesDispersal of Full-Time Private Law School Tuition Price Increases (Zoomed In)

Analysis of the Official Guide data also shows that the percent of full-time students paying full freight has dropped considerably in the last decade:

Percent Full-Time Law Students Paying Full Tuition

It might be the case that the real tuition today are less for the median student than a few years ago, but it’s still important for people to know that law schools will continue to depend on students who pay full freight. Because it’s harder for them to choose to drop out, 2Ls and 3Ls are especially likely to be asked to shoulder higher costs as their scholarships are rescinded.

The Official Guide data can be found on the LSTB data page, which I’ve updated to include the 1999-2000/2003-2004 academic years and inflation-adjusted tuition instead of percent increases. Okay, here are the projections. Enjoy.


Another Note on Private Law School Tuition Projection Methodologies

It’s the time of year again in which I offer my projections of how much private law schools will charge full-time students five and ten years from now. This requires a note (or digression) on the methodology I use. Last year, I went to great lengths to justify my decision to use law schools’ tuition data in individual linear regressions for the projections. Two things are different this year:

(1)  Because I scoured the Internet for older copies of the Official Guide, I now have more law school tuition data. My data go back to 1999 instead of 2004. The data alter the projections.

(2)  I may’ve found a better projection methodology than individual linear regression.

The added data speak for themselves, but it occurred to me that another potentially effective way of projecting future law school tuition is by using the average annual growth rate.

This table ought to explain what I’m talking about:

1999 20,980 N/A
2000 22,055 1,075
2001 23,194 1,139
2002 24,413 1,219
2003 25,968 1,555
2004 27,617 1,649
2005 29,229 1,612
2006 30,915 1,686
2007 32,841 1,926
2008 34,710 1,869
2009 36,510 1,800
2010 38,097 1,587
2011 39,697 1,600
2012 41,132 1,435

The questions are (a) is the average annual growth rate more accurate and precise than linear regression, and (b) if so, is it better to project each law school’s tuition individually or apply the overall average ($1,550) to each law school to snuff out outliers (Faulkner, I’m looking at you)?

On average the linear regression and average annual growth rate methodologies produce the same results.

Private Law School Tuition Projection Methodologies Comparison (2012-2022)

So let’s take this to the individual law school level by asking, “Which methodology on average most accurately and precisely predicted law schools’ 2012 costs based on their 1999-2011 prices?”

No. Private Law Schools by Tuition Projection Percent Variance by Methodology (2012)

Here are the average percent variances between the projected tuition prices and actual results (closer to zero is better) and the average deviations of the percent variances as a share of the average percent variance (smaller is more compact, which is better).

  • Linear Regression: 0.2% (average variance); 1,072.5% (deviation share of average)
  • Average Annual Growth Rate: 0.4%; 382.2%
  • Average Annual Growth Rate (Individual): 0.5%; 308.7%

You can see why I’m dissatisfied with the linear regression methodology: great average, horrible distribution.

The two average annual growth rate methodologies raise a conundrum: Applying the average law school’s average annual growth rate to each school is more accurate (closer to zero) while calculating the average annual growth rate for each school individually is generally more precise (tighter deviation). Here’s what it would look like projected out to 2017.

No. Private Law Schools by Tuition Projection Percent Variance by Methodology (2017)

  • Linear Regression: 20.7%; 15.4%
  • Average Annual Growth Rate: 19.3%; 12.8%
  • Average Annual Growth Rate (Individual): 19.8%; 9.4%

I’m pleased enough with the individual average annual growth rate’s precision that I’m willing to adopt it for this year. The only other revision to this methodology I can imagine is weighting the average annual growth rate on recent tuition increases on the basis that future tuition increases are going to be more like recent ones than those of the mid-2000s. I’d like to wait and see how much (or little) tuition costs increased this year before running that experiment.

Because of the change, here are revisions to past projections according to the older data and newer methodology. Note, the revisions do not include more recent years’ data to keep them consistent with the older projections.