Legal Education ROI

Record 17 Law Schools Didn’t Report Graduate Debt to U.S. News (’17)

Each year U.S. News & World Report lists law schools by the average indebtedness of their graduates. Importantly, the figures exclude accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these numbers are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here’s the debt table. A recurring problem in U.S. News’ debt data is law schools that misreport their graduating students’ annual debt as opposed to their cumulative debt, which is what the magazine asks for. Thus, I include last year’s numbers for illustration and encourage ridicule of law schools that cannot follow basic directions, but I welcome corrections.

# SCHOOL 2015 DEBT 2016 DEBT PCT. CHANGE
1. Thomas Jefferson $182,411 $198,962 9.1%
2. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] $190,842 $190,842 0.0%
3. San Francisco $167,671 $180,799 7.8%
4. New York University $167,646 $170,955 2.0%
5. American $164,194 $169,107 3.0%
6. Georgetown $166,027 $162,739 -2.0%
7. Harvard $153,172 $162,672 6.2%
8. Golden Gate $161,809 $158,857 -1.8%
9. Columbia $159,769 $158,348 -0.9%
10. Pepperdine $154,475 $157,527 2.0%
11. George Washington $145,240 $156,167 7.5%
12. New York Law School $157,568 $154,629 -1.9%
13. John Marshall (Chicago) $158,888 $153,520 -3.4%
14. Nova Southeastern $147,879 $151,505 2.5%
15. Santa Clara $149,940 $150,627 0.5%
16. Catholic $133,917 $149,158 11.4%
17. Cornell $158,128 $148,955 -5.8%
18. Seattle $139,745 $148,896 6.5%
19. Pennsylvania $156,725 $148,879 -5.0%
20. Marquette $142,601 $148,253 4.0%
21. California-Hastings $137,157 $146,150 6.6%
22. Loyola (CA) $146,494 $145,915 -0.4%
23. Pacific, McGeorge $144,431 $144,797 0.3%
24. Fordham $116,326 $144,168 23.9%
25. California Western $147,302 $143,592 -2.5%
26. Charleston $137,345 $143,105 4.2%
27. California-Berkeley $145,260 $143,049 -1.5%
28. Virginia $155,177 $142,906 -7.9%
29. Chapman $144,409 $141,533 -2.0%
30. Widener (Commonwealth) $129,016 $141,141 9.4%
31. Vermont $52,682 $138,991 163.8%
32. Denver $150,055 $138,513 -7.7%
33. Florida Coastal $158,878 $138,204 -13.0%
34. Loyola (IL) $88,588 $137,342 55.0%
35. Miami $149,580 $137,101 -8.3%
36. Northwestern $154,923 $136,532 -11.9%
37. Elon $153,347 $135,740 -11.5%
38. Chicago $134,148 $134,853 0.5%
39. Mercer $135,300 $134,317 -0.7%
40. Lewis and Clark $139,624 $132,419 -5.2%
41. Duke $137,829 $132,002 -4.2%
42. Hofstra $142,261 $131,957 -7.2%
43. Stanford $137,625 $131,745 -4.3%
44. Southern Methodist $126,172 $131,711 4.4%
45. Detroit Mercy $152,000 $131,421 -13.5%
46. Stetson $128,703 $131,200 1.9%
47. Seton Hall $125,300 $131,182 4.7%
48. Valparaiso $136,765 $128,221 -6.2%
49. Emory $120,804 $127,541 5.6%
50. Tulane $139,508 $127,113 -8.9%
51. Belmont $40,677 $126,272 210.4%
52. Drake $112,893 $125,438 11.1%
53. Michigan $146,309 $125,199 -14.4%
54. Western New England $121,367 $125,143 3.1%
55. Willamette $148,429 $124,350 -16.2%
56. South Texas-Houston $38,717 $123,715 219.5%
57. Oklahoma City $102,024 $123,256 20.8%
58. Notre Dame $123,924 $123,210 -0.6%
59. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] $115,405 $122,562 6.2%
60. DePaul $126,446 $122,290 -3.3%
61. Southern California $140,745 $122,192 -13.2%
62. Mississippi College $119,000 $121,000 1.7%
63. California-Los Angeles $118,291 $120,980 2.3%
64. Atlanta’s John Marshall $147,694 $120,744 -18.2%
65. Widener (Delaware) $135,151 $119,648 -11.5%
66. Suffolk $135,272 $118,725 -12.2%
67. Creighton $130,145 $118,552 -8.9%
68. Brooklyn $117,581 $118,519 0.8%
69. Vanderbilt $127,434 $117,992 -7.4%
70. Loyola (LA) $39,138 $117,746 200.8%
71. Maryland $113,927 $116,837 2.6%
72. St. Mary’s $118,583 $116,635 -1.6%
73. Capital $35,079 $116,612 232.4%
74. Roger Williams $126,334 $115,869 -8.3%
75. Dayton $108,724 $114,363 5.2%
76. Cardozo, Yeshiva $118,764 $114,085 -3.9%
77. Boston College $108,873 $112,868 3.7%
78. Samford $127,611 $112,662 -11.7%
79. California-Irvine $100,408 $112,429 12.0%
80. St. Louis $117,335 $112,142 -4.4%
81. Baltimore $108,328 $111,861 3.3%
82. Yale $121,815 $111,494 -8.5%
83. Regent $124,221 $111,268 -10.4%
84. St. John’s $117,572 $110,373 -6.1%
85. Albany $107,185 $110,225 2.8%
86. Boston University $104,755 $110,082 5.1%
87. Pace $124,317 $108,380 -12.8%
88. Washington $120,554 $107,975 -10.4%
89. Chicago-Kent, IIT $107,688 $107,540 -0.1%
90. Massachusetts — Dartmouth $98,730 $107,227 8.6%
91. George Mason $118,056 $106,642 -9.7%
92. Florida International $93,838 $106,596 13.6%
93. North Carolina $95,365 $106,514 11.7%
94. Gonzaga $109,692 $104,892 -4.4%
95. Colorado $100,499 $104,338 3.8%
96. California-Davis $103,811 $104,034 0.2%
97. Duquesne $108,414 $103,633 -4.4%
98. William and Mary $90,028 $103,318 14.8%
99. San Diego $127,693 $102,296 -19.9%
100. Syracuse $117,127 $101,983 -12.9%
101. Quinnipiac $101,371 $101,581 0.2%
102. Richmond $104,624 $101,296 -3.2%
103. Texas $103,417 $100,312 -3.0%
104. South Carolina $89,388 $99,862 11.7%
105. Washington and Lee $105,426 $98,512 -6.6%
106. Minnesota $106,436 $97,910 -8.0%
107. Missouri (Kansas City) $93,678 $97,419 4.0%
108. Pittsburgh $103,990 $97,239 -6.5%
109. Indiana (Indianapolis) $105,065 $96,941 -7.7%
110. Southern Illinois $87,634 $96,722 10.4%
111. Faulkner $18,434 $96,582 423.9%
112. Campbell $131,894 $96,215 -27.1%
113. New Hampshire $95,650 $95,312 -0.4%
114. SUNY Buffalo $90,546 $95,149 5.1%
115. Michigan State $91,014 $94,540 3.9%
116. Ohio Northern $104,284 $94,119 -9.7%
117. Indiana (Bloomington) $99,895 $93,978 -5.9%
118. Penn State (Penn State Law) $117,692 $93,406 -20.6%
119. Washington University $93,768 $93,141 -0.7%
120. Houston $97,246 $92,899 -4.5%
121. Northeastern $111,410 $92,051 -17.4%
122. Drexel $96,402 $91,744 -4.8%
123. Baylor $144,732 $91,679 -36.7%
124. Ohio State $88,301 $90,638 2.6%
125. Maine $89,513 $90,636 1.3%
126. Concordia N/A $90,607 N/A
127. Western State $119,382 $90,302 -24.4%
128. Southern University $89,552 $90,211 0.7%
129. Mitchell|Hamline $100,603 $89,469 -11.1%
130. Idaho $86,022 $89,018 3.5%
131. Florida $82,480 $88,409 7.2%
132. Northern Illinois $86,899 $88,081 1.4%
133. Villanova $99,736 $87,786 -12.0%
134. Arizona State $97,780 $87,612 -10.4%
135. Illinois $99,782 $87,559 -12.2%
136. Louisville $99,581 $86,110 -13.5%
137. Louisiana State $83,919 $85,703 2.1%
138. Arizona $84,601 $85,519 1.1%
139. Cleveland State $29,051 $84,764 191.8%
140. Case Western Reserve $102,370 $84,436 -17.5%
141. Nevada $97,361 $84,386 -13.3%
142. Hawaii $82,510 $84,295 2.2%
143. Oklahoma $83,433 $84,057 0.7%
144. Lincoln Memorial $89,779 $83,526 -7.0%
145. Kentucky $59,163 $82,905 40.1%
146. Wyoming $90,231 $82,749 -8.3%
147. West Virginia $82,683 $82,542 -0.2%
148. Texas Tech $80,087 $82,355 2.8%
149. Georgia $82,199 $82,191 0.0%
150. Penn State (Dickinson Law) $109,828 $81,718 -25.6%
151. Toledo $85,649 $81,626 -4.7%
152. Oregon $17,834 $81,211 355.4%
153. Utah $91,982 $79,813 -13.2%
154. Memphis $76,997 $79,363 3.1%
155. New Mexico $75,277 $79,199 5.2%
156. Washburn $81,528 $78,287 -4.0%
157. Wayne State $81,738 $77,993 -4.6%
158. St. Thomas (MN) $100,805 $77,875 -22.7%
159. Wake Forest $105,090 $77,712 -26.1%
160. Liberty $73,857 $77,077 4.4%
161. City University $78,523 $76,302 -2.8%
162. Florida State $88,732 $75,899 -14.5%
163. Connecticut $72,042 $75,383 4.6%
164. Alabama $75,577 $75,373 -0.3%
165. Tulsa $76,988 $73,987 -3.9%
166. Temple $86,937 $73,589 -15.4%
167. Iowa $74,128 $73,230 -1.2%
168. Kansas $88,809 $72,617 -18.2%
169. Arkansas (Little Rock) $65,931 $71,969 9.2%
170. Montana $75,470 $71,604 -5.1%
171. Akron $82,854 $70,670 -14.7%
172. Arkansas (Fayetteville) $67,758 $68,924 1.7%
173. Wisconsin $77,555 $68,050 -12.3%
174. Cincinnati $75,512 $67,028 -11.2%
175. Missouri (Columbia) $80,138 $66,944 -16.5%
176. North Dakota $66,917 $65,993 -1.4%
177. Tennessee $80,445 $65,107 -19.1%
178. Mississippi $67,539 $64,644 -4.3%
179. North Carolina Central $60,479 $63,300 4.7%
180. Florida A&M $20,500 $61,500 200.0%
181. South Dakota $56,609 $58,177 2.8%
182. Nebraska $62,888 $57,992 -7.8%
183. Georgia State $64,384 $56,710 -11.9%
184. Brigham Young $58,133 $53,237 -8.4%
185. Rutgers $56,173 $38,376 -31.7%
186. Whittier $179,056 N/A N/A
187. Charlotte $167,002 N/A N/A
188. Ave Maria $152,476 N/A N/A
189. Barry $151,479 N/A N/A
190. District of Columbia $105,330 N/A N/A
191. Northern Kentucky $74,190 N/A N/A
192. Howard $50,920 N/A N/A
10TH PERCENTILE $66,917 $73,230 -14.5%
25TH PERCENTILE $86,022 $84,764 -8.9%
MEDIAN $106,436 $106,514 -1.6%
75TH PERCENTILE $136,765 $131,200 3.9%
90TH PERCENTILE $153,347 $148,879 11.7%
MEAN $108,957 $108,333 9.1%

(U.S. News’ debt rankings can be found here.)

And per this post’s title, here’s the List of Shame: Law schools that chose not to submit their graduates’ debt information to U.S. News, along with their last-reported figures and the year in which they reported them. Thanks to the gainful employment rule, I was able to track down median graduate debt at three for-profits. As I am merciful, I exclude the three Puerto Rico law schools from this count. This year, I extend that mercy to Whittier, which in 2017-18 chose to cease accepting law students.

  • Arizona Summit [Phoenix] – $190,842 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Touro – $154,855 (2013)
  • Ave Maria – $152,476 (2015)
  • Barry – $151,479 (2015)
  • Southwestern – $147,976 (2011)
  • Thomas (FL) – $140,808 (2013)
  • Florida Coastal – $138,204 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • New England – $132,246 (2012)
  • WMU Cooley – $122,395 (2011)
  • Atlanta’s John Marshall – $120,744 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Appalachian – $114,740 (2011)
  • La Verne – $112,628 (2011)
  • District of Columbia – $105,330 (2015)
  • Texas Southern – $99,992 (2011)
  • Northern Kentucky – $74,190 (2015)
  • Howard – $50,920 (2015)
  • North Texas-Dallas – NEVER

These 16 law schools account for 2,605 graduates out of 34,478, or 8 percent of the total.

Compared to the graduating class from two years earlier, weighted-average private law-school graduate debt fell from $134,186 to $130,536 (-3%). For public law schools, debt fell from $94,602 to $91,218 (-4%). The weights are the percent of graduates who took out debt per U.S. News multiplied by the number of graduates according to the 509 information reports. The reason I compare ’17 to ’15 is that last year, U.S. News allowed law schools to report absurdly high percents of graduates with debt.

The unweighted averages, which alas are what’s commonly reported, fell as well over the two-year period. At private law schools, it went down from $128,694 to $123,785 (-4%). That’s $88,051 from $92,144 (-4%) at public law schools. Thus, these declines can be attributed to graduates borrowing less and not the percentages of graduates borrowing at each school. This is good news. However, there might also be an unseen composition effect of fewer people matriculating to high-debt schools. (By unseen, I mean, I’m not going to check.)

So the good news is that the class of ’17 looks more like the classes of ’12 or ’13 than more recent classes. The bad news is just how much law grads’ debt positions deteriorated after the Great Recession.

Finally, the observations:

  • A bunch of law schools bounced back from misreporting their graduate data last year, accounting for some big swings: Faulkner (423.9%), Oregon (355.4%), Capital (232.4%), South Texas-Houston (219.5%), Belmont (210.4%), Loyola (LA) (200.8%), Florida A&M (200.0%), Cleveland State (191.8%), Vermont (163.8%).
  • Other swings: Loyola (IL) (55.0%), Kentucky (40.1%), Fordham (23.9%), Oklahoma City (20.8%).
  • And finally the big raspberries: Baylor (-36.7%), Rutgers (-31.7%), Campbell (-27.1%), Wake Forest (-26.1%), Penn State (Dickinson Law) (-25.6%), Western State (-24.4%), St. Thomas (MN) (-22.7%), and Penn State (Penn State Law) (-20.6%).

Conclusion: It’s discouraging more law schools chose not to report their debt outcomes than before, but at least they didn’t grossly misreport them like last year. And yes, U.S. News should know better than to publish absurd numbers without actually looking at them. Finally, kudos to Concordia for jumping on the wagon with its first year reporting.

Entries on this topic from prior years:

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LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: February 2018 Edition

The February 2018 LSAT administration marks the sixth in a row that has seen an increase in the number of test takers. This time, 24,335 people (+13.7 percent) took the exam, according to the LSAC. Here’s a chart of LSAT administrations going back to the late 1990s.

The four-period moving sum of LSATs, equivalent to the year-over-year change in the 2017-18 LSAT year, rose to 129,183 (+2.3 percent). The last time it was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Although the effect of the 13.7 percent bump in February LSATs is muted by the overall low number of test takers, it’s still a large effect in itself. Every administration in the 2017-18 cycle has seen at least 10 percent growth over the previous year, which hasn’t happened since the 2009 calendar year or the 2001-02 LSAT year.

After the December LSAT, I discussed an earlier prediction that the Trump bump would diminish over this year. I think it’s still too soon to tell, and we may have another 10 percent jump in June. However, the Trump stuff is a one-time event and can’t really mark a sustained change in the future of the legal profession or the overall economy. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

For historical note, last year I remarked that there was no evidence of a Trump surge, but I did discuss how more people were sitting for the LSAT despite fewer people applying. I suggested that test takers were behaving more strategically than before. Consequently, it will be interesting to see where the higher number of applicants ultimately apply, particularly because law schools are still closing.

Can AccessLex Institute Add Decimals to 100%?

I apologize for being last to the potluck for AccessLex Institute’s study, “Examining Value, Measuring Engagement,” which surveys law-school graduates to investigate their long-term outcomes. Please enjoy my store-bought pasta salad that I’ll abandon with my hosts.

I always take seriously any sincere exploration of the long-term value of law degrees. (Okay, the same goes for insincere ones, just for different reasons.) But how seriously one should take “Examining Value” depends on what one thinks of opinion surveys. For answering value-of-a-law-degree questions I see them as an inferior form of data. Valid, but not the best approach. Opinion data are essentially aggregates of respondents’ moods, making them subjective, contradictory, and volatile.

For example, “Examining Value” sometimes divides its respondents between pre-recession and post-recession graduates, and as expected, post-recession graduates report longer job searches and dimmer opinions on the value of their law degrees. Graduates with more law-school debt tend to believe they would not go to law school if they were Groundhog Daying their lives.

Law-school graduates do stray from my expectations in a few places. One is their willingness to recommend law degrees to people like them, e.g. 53 percent of post-recession graduates. Given how much people without law degrees discourage others from going to law school, the finding is surprising up to the point that one considers the enormous power of selection bias and choice-supportive bias. I’m also surprised that so few J.D.s believe their law degrees were not worth the cost (only 4 percent (of all law grads)), an empirical question that can be tested against graduates’ actual circumstances. However—and this is an important shortcoming of “Examining Value”—the study frequently declines to post percentages of its survey results by graduation year, dropping only side comments like, “Students who graduated during or after the Great Recession are less likely than earlier graduates to strongly agree that their degree was worth the cost, even when controlling for student debt.”

Thanks for the detailed insight, AccessLex Institute.

But the shortcomings only start there. One question AccessLex Institute didn’t bother asking was, “How much money do you make?” For all the study’s focus on student-loan debt, you’d think that it would take graduates’ incomes into account as well. Then, of course, there’s its uninterest in defining what a “good job” is. Sure it took 26 percent of post-recession grads more than a year to find one, but we still don’t know what they are or if they have anything to do with the skills and knowledge they obtained in law school that they couldn’t’ve gotten from reading a book.

Finally, the title to this post promised you some strange arithmetic, and here it is. Figure 14 asks the relevant respondents to choose one of a number of reasons they no longer practice law:

Rounding errors and omitting a few percentage points of unknown responses are okay, but one-quarter of non-practicing grads didn’t list a reason. That’s pretty significant, and it would be interesting to see how that corresponds with their debts and incomes, which, again, AccessLex Institute didn’t ask for. These non-practitioners in Figure 14 account for 37 percent of J.D. participants, an alarmingly high proportion that calls the survey’s primary findings into question. How can respondents say their law degrees have value if so many of them aren’t using them at work?

The best answer, further down, is “analytical skills,” but naturally the survey didn’t ask any respondents, much less experts, if they could obtain those by alternative means.

“Examining Value” can be found via the ABA Journal‘s article on it.

If the purpose of AccessLex Institute’s study was to find the current perceived value of a law degree, it’s done a mediocre job. Perceptions don’t say a lot that we don’t know, and even so they’re often contradictory and prey to cognitive biases. It’s only when researchers try to dig into the causes of those contradictions that these types of studies provide genuine insights.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: December 2017 Edition

The number of December LSAT takers rose to 40,096 (+27.9 percent) from 31,340 last year. It is the sixth administration in a row to show positive test-taker growth. Here is what it looks like in perspective.

This is quite the acceleration, one of the fastest ever.

The four-period moving sum, which is identical to the calendar-year total, rose to 126,248 (+7.5 percent). Comparable administrations are September/October 2009 (+6.5 percent), September/October 2001 (+7.9 percent, the record), and December 1988 (+7.0 percent). The last time the four-period moving sum was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Two months ago I (idly) predicted this surge would diminish over the next year. That doesn’t appear to be where the trend is heading. Disturbingly, two of the aforementioned comparison administrations, fall 2009 and fall 2001, were recession periods, which indicates the kind of moment LSATs are in. I’ll repeat the same points for as long as this phenomenon continues: There is no reason to believe the legal profession will have more jobs compared to the rate of LSAT growth. Most of these potential applicants—let’s call them Sessions’ 0Ls—are badly misguided.

Since we’re on the topic of LSAC data, as of week 3, 2018, the number of applicants for this fall stands at 29,287. Week 3 was roughly the halfway mark for last year, so we may have about 61,000 applicants by August. This final applicant count has been falling in recent weeks, which I think is typical.

More tea leaves to read after February.

2016: Full-Time Students Paying Full Tuition Fell by 2.4 Percentage Points

Discussions of law-school costs are incomplete if they do not include discounts some students receive, usually as merit scholarships paid for by their full-tuition-paying classmates. The topic is salient today because Congress is considering limiting the amount law students can borrow from the federal government. If the PROSPER Act passes, then it’s likely law schools would need to reorganize their cost structures—notably by reducing scholarships and their full price tags. 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 2017-18 academic year, we now have data on 2016-17. One new drawback this year is that law schools that closed or stopped accepting new students before 2017 did not provide scholarship data for 2016, so the picture is slightly distorted.

In 2016, the proportion of full-time students paying full tuition fell by 2.4 percentage points from 28.1 percent to 25.7 percent at the average law school not in Puerto Rico. 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 the average private law school, which don’t price discriminate in favor of resident students, the number of students receiving grants ranging between half tuition and full tuition now exceeds the number paying full tuition. Many more receive a grant worth less-than-half tuition.

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 55 percent. Since 2001, the last year for which data are available, the drop is 35 percent. In 2016, the median private law school’s full-tuition revenue was $3.8 million, down from $12.2 million in 2011. In 2001, the median was $9 million. This is quite a precipitous decline.

So how substantially are private law schools discounting? The best way to answer that question is by treating 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 the MDT at the most expensive law schools is about as much as full tuition at the cheapest private law schools. Meanwhile, schools in the fourth quintile now discount to the level that third quintile law schools do. This indicates pretty fierce competition for students. MDTs at the bottom four-fifths of law schools are converging with one another while diverging from the most expensive schools.

That’s all for now.

Information on this topic from previous years:

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:

What Recovery? Legal Services Industry Grows 0.2 Percent in 2016

Last year I celebrated a full 2.0 percent growth in the legal-services industry, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. Alas, this year it’s all been dashed away and revised. Instead of 2.0 percent growth, we have 0.2 percent growth, and the figure for 2015 has been revised downward to 0.4 percent. Sad trombone.

The whole economy grew 1.5 percent to the legal sector’s 0.4 percent.

(Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA))

Since 2008, the legal sector has contracted by a cumulative 23 percent. It is about the same size as in 1995.

As for the composition of the legal sector’s value added, it’s mostly attributable to … taxes (+0.4 percent). The gross operating surplus, i.e. what goes to firm owners, was down 0.1 percent, and total compensation has been flat two years in a row. Since 2008, compensation of employees has contributed -7.5 percent to the legal sector. The gross operating surplus added -15.5 percent, and taxes contributed nothing.

Finally, consistent with flat growth in the legal sector, household consumption of legal services fell by 1 percent, but it at least grew by 2 percent in 2015. Since its peak year, 2003, spending on legal services has dropped by 12.5 percent.

Households consume about as much in legal services of their total consumption as they did in 1982.

Last year I wrote that the legal-services sector can’t shrink forever, but sustained growth is still nowhere to be found. Looking at how much it’s fallen behind the rest of the economy, it’s surreal to think about how much growth would be needed for it to catch up.