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.
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.