High School Grads Get a Big Raise, College Grads? Not So Much

Last week, the Census Bureau published the 2015 edition of its Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance tables. This information is my favorite source for understanding the value of higher education: More young people are getting college credentials, but their aggregate income isn’t rising much, which means they’re not much better off.

aggregate-personal-earnings-by-education-25-34-both-sexes

Indeed, in the mean-average year since 1991, people who didn’t start high school have received bigger raises than any other category. College graduates barely do better than high school grads. Meanwhile, many more people have gone to college and fewer just stop at high school.

earnings-growth-rates-by-education-for-25-34-year-olds-1991

As for 2015, the high-schoolers got a much bigger raise than the college grads.

percent-change-in-earnings-by-education-25-34-year-olds

(The data are highly erratic, but it’s still fun to do the horse-racing.)

That’s all, folks.

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Past coverage:

Class of 2015 NALP Data: The Mid-Law Crunch

A few weeks ago, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) published the national summary report for its Employment Report and Salary Survey (ERSS) (pdf). Unlike last year, the chart lists the total number of graduates and the number who reported employment information, and the NALP updated its ERSS national summary chart for the class of 2014 to include that as well. I chided the NALP for omitting these last year, but that’s not a problem now. Good.

My goal today is to quickly glance at the ERSS for information the NALP might not have reported or missed, and to add to the time-series displays of graduate employment outcomes I provided last year. The NALP’s data are far easier to work with than the ABA’s when it comes to longitudinal trends, so this is where to get it. Nevertheless, I don’t have much to say.

The NALP’s selected findings (pdf) focused on the number of graduates finding private practice jobs, the lowest since 1996. There were undoubtedly fewer than 40,000 graduates that year, so compared to 39,984 this year, this is understandable. What is new, as I discussed in May, is that even though the number of graduates fell, the proportion of them finding better work didn’t improve. Large percentages are still working in “JD-advantage” jobs and nearly 11 percent reported being unemployed. This is not what a law-graduate recovery would look like.

percent-employed-by-status-nalp

no-grads-employed-by-status-nalp

Last year, at least, there was some rise in the proportion of employed grads. This year nothing’s changed. Blame all the grads who failed the bar, I guess.

As for the kinds of jobs grads are getting, I’m seeing a mid-law crunch since 2007 that I don’t believe the NALP has discussed.

no-graduates-employed-by-size-of-firm-nalp

cumulative-percent-change-in-grads-employed-in-law-firm-jobs-by-firm-size-index-2007100-nalp

(Sorry this one’s a little unclear.)

In fact, hiring at firms with 51-250 lawyers shrank the most since 2007, more than 30 percent in each category. Smaller firms have grown—but are now shrinking—and the biggest firms are making a comeback.

I’m not a biglawologist, nor a midlawologist, but if the big firms aren’t annexing the middle ones, then this is a chunk of the profession that’s shrinking. Looking at the After the JD II data, which I know is dated, middle-sized practices tended to have low outflow rates compared to other practice areas. Aside from government work, maybe these were among the best long-term jobs one could get out of law school?

2016-09-06 Site Update

Good morning, and happy September! If you like state-level employment projections and employed-lawyer-per-capita counts, then this post is for you! The powers that be have collected states’ employment projections, allowing us to peer into the future of lawyer employment. Find out what that means for law grads below…

Law Graduate Overproduction

Lawyers Per Capita By State

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.

(more…)

‘Law Deans Are Running Bait and Switch Operation’

…In Australia.

Yes folks, y’all can add Down Under to the list of countries with too many law students chasing too few legal jobs, according to a surprisingly scathing opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review by a law instructor at Macquarie University.

A few quotes:

“Law student numbers are out of hand. Nearly 15,000 finish their degree each year, and enter a market where there are only 66,000 solicitors.” Yikes.

“Law deans are running a bait and switch operation. They hold out the promise of a legal career, while adding to the unemployment queue.”

Finally:

“[The deans’] claim that the legal problems undertaken in law tutorials are a platform for a generalist degree – that will see students who miss out on a job as a lawyer well placed to enter other high-paid spheres of the economy – is a self-serving myth.”

All this is just more evidence that American legal education does a better job of training law deans to advocate their positions than other countries do. The best they can offer here is the versatile-law-degree argument, but if they want to avoid a government crackdown, they’ll have to lean on increasing diversity in the profession or at least gussy up what they have with some kind of human-capital analysis. Otherwise, these Southern Hemispherians will end up like their Japanese counterparts.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: June 2016 Edition

Whoo-ey! Took long enough. As with February, the LSAC took its sweet time posting the number of people who sat for the most recent LSAT. In June 23,051 people took the test, down 0.8 percent from last year (23,238).

No. LSAT Takers, 4-Testing Period Moving Sum

The four-period moving sum fell trivially again by 0.2 percent to 105,696. My December speculation that LSATs are trending downward again appears to be holding, but these numbers are really, really flat.

Meanwhile LSAC data indicate that 1 percent more people are applying to law school this year. I can see this number falling next year because of the latest round of New York Times coverage on law school, but until then, I’m still curious what the application distribution will be for this year. September/October will probably be more insightful.

Anyway, a year ago I joked that law school was becoming a thing again, but that trend appears blunted. That’s where we are.

Council of Economic Advisors: College Pays. Grad School? Sh!

Or, “The Reality Behind AEI’s Reality Behind the Student Debt ‘Crisis'”

Speaking of student loans, I am directed to the American Enterprise Institute’s response to the Council of Economic Advisor’s (CEA’s), “Investing in Higher Education: Benefits, Challenges, and the State of Student Debt” (pdf).

Because I try to deliver early on my post titles rather than bury them, here’s the report’s chart on the crucial but under-emphasized dispersion of earnings by educational attainment for 35-44 year-olds with payroll incomes. (This cohort doesn’t seem so representative to me of recent student borrowers—and not in a good way, but that’s a different issue.)

CEA--State of Student Loans--Figure 5

Eyeballing the chart, more than a quarter of graduate-degree holders earn less than the median 4-year-degree holder in the same age bracket, and the bottom 25 percent of grads earn about $45,000 or less. The B.A.s earn between about $20,000 and $130,000 while the grads make roughly between $30,000 and $170,000. Graduates in between the 75th and 90th percentiles haul in nearly half the total difference. This wide dispersion cries for more analysis because graduate borrowing amplifies student debt loads. High debts and low incomes, even for this small group of debtors, tend to discredit the human capital hypothesis and the purpose of student lending.

But back to the reality behind the reality behind the- etc.

Critical readers should always be on their guards whenever someone characterizes the “student debt crisis.” Frequently it’s a strawman of the crisis writers want to discuss rather than how much of the unpayable debt will be written down in the future. In the AEI’s case, the crisis is, “[T]he macroeconomic impact of high debt levels.” Here, AEI takes this to mean the stock of $1.3 trillion of debt.

The AEI post turns to its education scholars, startlingly Jason Delisle, who perhaps has moved on from the New America Foundation. Delisle focuses first on the claim that “student debt is holding back the economy.” The CEA report attempts to discredit this position in six ways. One, student debt is not as big as the mortgage bubble (which I don’t think I’ve seen anyone argue for a few years now). Two, hardship today will be offset by the future productivity unleashed by education. Three, everyone borrowed student loans when the opportunity costs were lowest, so high debt levels are in step with the economy and not undermining it. Four, student debt is only slightly reducing homeownership among young people. Five, student loans only reduce auto debt for high-balance debtors. Six, student-loan debts reduce small-business formation and their incomes somewhat, but other factors are involved.

The study concludes, “Had the same students received an education without as many loans, the recovery would likely have been stronger, but not substantially so. Most individuals, and the economy as a whole, will benefit from the education made possible by student loans” (56).

In other words, the Obama administration is asking everyone to double down on its hope that all this education will pay off someday and the government won’t have to write down hundreds of billions of dollars in unpayable education debt, whether by forgiveness promises in repayment plans or new legislation. It’s a theme that crops up elsewhere in the report, and it suffers from two problems. One, higher education doesn’t correspond to higher aggregate incomes; rather it seems to be swapping high-school grads with college grads while keeping incomes flat. If college boosts incomes like video-game power-ups, then we’d expect exponential growth in aggregate incomes, but we’re not. And anyone who thinks the payoff will come later must explain why intervening variables aren’t involved, e.g. occupational differences, which would explain the wider earnings dispersions for the credentialed. The CEA gives us no confidence in its education bet.

Problem number two is that the report tends to side against studies produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (especially those by Meta Brown, et al.) in favor of research producing more satisfying results. The impacts might be trivial, but the NY Fed found that youngish student debtors weren’t getting mortgages or were more likely to live with their parents than the unindebted (links buried here). Meanwhile, the report shoos away the Bennett hypothesis by claiming a lack of consensus, with the caveat that there may be some “administrative bloat” in colleges and universities. Consensuses are tough rhetorical animals to wrestle with and should require significant evidence to prove. A few studies here and there will not do it.

So back to AEI. When Delisle writes, “[Advocacy groups] say student debt is forcing people to delay things like buying a house, starting a family, all productive things. This report is pretty clear that isn’t the case,” he’s wrong. The report clearly concedes that student debt is negatively affecting the economy, albeit to a small degree, and thanks in part to wishing away contrary NY Fed studies and insisting that all the education will pay off someday.

To clarify, student debt is a notable if not primary contributor to a generational disaster dominated by the trade deficit or slack aggregate demand—and new student borrowing is declining—but the CEA report isn’t the source to show it. So that’s a strike against Delisle.

He asks:

Why are millions of borrowers flocking to enroll in a program [IBR, PAYE, REPAYE, etc.] that allows them to cap their student loan payments at a small share of their income if the return on an educational investment are large? Something seems amiss there. I’ve done a lot of work showing that the income-based repayment program is too generous as a result of Obama administration changes, which may explain this disconnect.

I’ve answered the first question already: There is no large, aggregate return to higher education. As to Delisle’s work on the changes to IBR, it’s never demonstrated that the programs are too generous because it’s based on lopsided, self-verifying hypotheticals. In fact, according to a GAO study, in 2014 only 2 percent of debtors in IBR or PAYE plans earned more than $80,000, so Delisle’s mythical IBR deadbeat is not a serious policy concern. Amusingly, Delisle’s reaction to the GAO study at the time was to blame debtors for not making enough money, gasping that they’d use IBR plans for long-term rather than short-term debt relief.

AEI then turns to resident scholar Andrew Kelly, who writes, “Lower interest rates [proposed by Democrats] won’t help folks with small balances who aren’t repaying nearly as much as they’ll help those with average or large balances, most of whom have no trouble repaying because they have the highest educational attainment!”

I have problems with the Warrenian interest-rate proposals too, but Kelly makes the frequent mistake of flipping the income and debt variables to conclude that high-balance debtors are deadbeats, even though the CEA report shows a wide income dispersion for graduate-degree holders.

I admit I didn’t give the CEA report a thorough read, but it looks like the AEI scholars didn’t either.