It really is one of the most unusual things I’ve seen in my few years writing on legal education. Like, where did these applicants get it into their heads that U.S. News‘ darlings were desperate? Hope they did well though.
Following up on my post on the upswing in applications to U.S. News‘ top 20 law schools this year, I took a look at the percentage of full-time applications that are sent to the T-14: It’s ranged between 16-21 percent since 1999, which is quite disproportionate. It occurred to me that one could try to illustrate the distribution of applications by modifying the Lorenz curve with the U.S. News rankings.
Usually, a Lorenz curve measures the distribution of a phenomenon, like income, by arranging the cumulative proportion of households by the cumulative amount of their incomes. The more income (or wealth, or ice cream sandwiches, or whatever) some households have, the sharper the curve is at the far end of the distribution. The closer the curve is to a triangle, the more equal the distribution is. By taking the negative area between the curve and where the hypotenuse of the triangle is, and then dividing it by the total area of the triangle, one can determine the Gini coefficient, which you always read about but have no idea what it means.
I crafted a Lorenz curve for full-time law school applications for the 2009 to 2014 cycles using the previous year’s rankings, assuming that that’s what influences applicants. So for example applications for fall 2014 used the rankings released back in early 2013. I then sorted the percentages by ranking and then the highest percentages for ties.
(If it wasn’t clear, the Gini coefficient is just area “A” divided by areas “A+B”.)
Although most of the reporting about law school applications has been about the declining total, this is the first look I know of at the shifts in the distribution. The important points that jump out are:
(a) “Application inequality” has grown quite noticeably in the last two years in favor of higher-ranked law schools. (Don’t expect any Occupiers or Elizabeth Warren to care.) Between 2012 and 2014, the top 20 captured an additional 6.1 percentage points.
(b) The rank-not-published/unranked/erstwhile tier 4 law schools have usually received about 15 percent of all applications over the last five years. They’ve lost about 2.2 percent of the total in the last two years.
(c) The top 50 law schools, whatever they were, have gone from getting 45 percent of all applications to half. That’s right, about half of all full-time applications go to just 50 law schools.
(d) It’s not shown, but for-profit law schools have never drawn more than 3.25 percent of all full-time applications. They’ve fallen to 2.52 percent in 2014. Freestanding private law schools’ share has dropped as well, but that’s largely because some of those schools are now affiliated with larger universities.
(e) You probably figured this out already, but the number one law school by application share is Georgetown, which is the safety school for the stars.
(f) The full-time law school applications Gini coefficient has risen from about 0.37 until 2012 to 0.42 this year. This is close to household income inequality in the U.S.
I didn’t expect the distribution would be so unequal, so I guess I’ve learned something from this exercise. Hopefully you did too.
Students at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School were surprised to find their tuition was free for the 2014-15 academic year.
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.
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.
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.
…The end, that is, of the matriculant crunch that blights them.
(What, you thought I was going to predict widespread school closings? Haha, no.)
The accelerated (sure surprised me) release of law schools’ Standard 509 Information Reports, aka/fka the Official Guide, allows us to peer into the world of law schools as they are this very semester. Like, you can see them delaying their finals on account of grand jury verdicts … in real time.
No. The first finding is that there were 33,426 full-time law school matriculants this fall, down a paltry 1,247 from 2013. Last year, the drop was 2,621, hence this post’s title. (These figures exclude the three Puerto Rico law schools, which applies throughout this post.) I’d like to take this time to apologize for teasing you on Wednesday with one law school’s 90 percent full-time matriculant decline since 2004.
Part of the matriculant stabilization might be attributable to a slight uptick in acceptance rates.
Emphasis on the “might,” for it’s a very slight change in the trend, unlike 2013, but it does correspond to a similar budge in matriculant yields (omitted).
In general, though, the distribution of the matriculant collapse since the last trough years (1999 and 2007) is about the same as last year. I shan’t display that analysis now, but it’s still true that about 10 percent of the law schools account for half the total decline since 2007, which is probably the best comparison and not 2010, which was a peak year.
As for the number of full-time applications, you can see the accelerators are being hit at all levels:
This year, about 20 percent of law schools saw a growth in applications. First place goes to Case Western, which rallied from 1,200 applications last year to 1,913 this year, leading to a 46 percent increase in matriculants. Iowa saw a similar growth in its incoming class size after its application count nearly doubled. Penn State also saw some growth. I’ll have to look into the role that nominal tuition cuts play, but maybe they’re more successful than I thought. I just don’t think anyone should expect them to cause a Black Friday rampage by new applicants.
Nevertheless, probably the most interesting story this year is the surge in applications at most of the members of U.S. News and World Report‘s 14 highest-ranked law schools—as well as four of the remaining six of the top twenty. It’s really remarkable. Fourteen of these twenty schools contributed 1.39 percent against the -7.56 percent application growth rate. (Those stats are additive.)
The phenomenon is fascinating because it demonstrates that applicants interpreted a message (from somewhere) as saying that reputable law schools are worth applying to while most of the rest are not. More than even the law school tipping point between late 2009 and early 2010, I can’t recall ever seeing evidence of such discrete thinking on the part of applicants.
An admitted weakness with the LSTB is that it’s not as good at measuring inputs as outcomes, so I can’t tell you whether this behavior is due to a particular article on a news Web site, advice from guidance counselors or others, or some kind of forum. It might be multiple concurrent causes. Regardless, the now-is-the-best-time-to-apply-to-law-school-ever crowd might be able to take credit for directly influencing potential law school applicants’ actions, though I read their advice as telling people that it was also okay to be the number one pick at a respected non-elite institution. Thus, it might not be those writers. Possibly, the applicants, whom I’ll call “surplus applicants,” interpreted those messages more conservatively than their authors intended.
But was “apply to only elite law schools” a successful strategy? My first cut says that it was a waste of time for many surplus applicants because highly ranked law schools are not desperate for applicants with good credentials.
Here’s a table of surplus full-time applications, offers, and matriculations between 2013 and 2014 at the 14 out of 20 U.S. News‘ top law schools that saw application increases.
The odds of getting into one of these schools as a surplus applicant are not as good as the typical applicant was last year, assuming these schools used the same acceptance strategy this year. Only 12 percent of the total were accepted, but the ratio of surplus applications to surplus matriculants is 28, which is much higher than the ratio for all top 20 law schools in 2013 (16-17). Consequently, we can infer that many surplus applicants were rejected.
Of course without the now-is-the-best-time-to-apply-to-law-school-ever message, presumably the number of applications at these schools would have continued to fall or not fall by as much, so it depends on where you think the baseline for the first surplus applicant should be set. Anyway, more research might illuminate the issue, but the pushback in favor of law school appears to have gotten all the benefits it can. Prestigious law schools just aren’t changing their behaviors.
I should also note that some of these schools, such as Georgetown and Columbia, scorned their applicants as they came out of the woodwork. One strategy that might be developing, or, rather, receiving more scrutiny, is prestigious law schools rejecting many applications while accepting transfers instead. If you take a look at Georgetown’s 509 report, you can see that the 113 tranfers it took in (about 6 percent of its 2014 enrollment) came from dozens of schools. The list of origin schools goes on for a page and a half! As growth (decline) in applicants becomes less relevant, focusing on distribution will. My cursory look into the matter has found that some schools have a taste for for-profit law school refugees, e.g. Arizona State from Arizona Summit.
Other oddities I noticed: One, not all highly ranked law schools did so well. UVRollingStonebotchedrApereporting lost 815 full-time applications, and Minnesota lost 751. I could be convinced that these are typos in their thousand digits, but if not it’s peculiar that these two highly regarded schools would contribute -0.4 percent to the -7.6 percent full-time applications decline while their peers did so much better. Two, the University of Chicago found the 20 or so full-time law professors it misplaced last year. Congrats, and let that be a lesson to other law schools that misreport their numbers to the ABA.
So far the 2014-15 academic year has shaped up to be more interesting than I thought it would be. More research on other issues will appear here in time.
Gotta be quick, but Brooklyn Law School dean Nicholas Allard writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Lowering Law-School Tuition Benefits Everyone, Not Just the Students,” which deserves comment.
The fact is that the financial model of law schools is broken. Unless the schools do what they can to make legal education more affordable, they will price themselves out of business, contribute to the high cost of legal services that most people need, and widen the gap in access to justice.
The first sentence is true, but the rest is questionable. Many people will not go to law school at any price, but some schools will survive if they slash tuition. However, tuition has little to do with the cost of legal services and access to justice (not the justice of rents to legal educators).
Allard appears to believe that high tuition leads to high debt, which leads to lawyers not taking public interest jobs that pay less then courtroom janitors. It’s odd because two paragraphs later, he mentions Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Pay-As-You-Earn, which falsify his thesis. If highly indebted graduates want to serve the poor, they should be able to under the current loan-repayment framework. Sure, the proposed caps on PSLF would be bad for debtors and are based on the belief that they over-borrowed rather than the schools over-pricing, the government over-lending, or the jobs-underpaying, but graduates do not often pass up public interest in favor of biglaw. Not everyone gets such a choice.
It is a shameful canard that student loans and indebtedness are the cause of high tuition. They are not; they are the symptom. Tuitions at law schools are soaring … because of the way law schools spend money in pursuit of rankings rather than investing in students, education, professional training, and scholarship.
Not sure what Allard means here, but I think it’s the closest I’ve seen to a law school dean rejecting the Bennett hypothesis. Without excessive federal lending, law schools couldn’t raise their costs. It’s the means of the tuition bubble, not the motive and opportunity—if you fancy looking at this like a murder mystery.
With political currents eroding America’s historic and successful support for higher education, we can’t expect anyone else to help. We must do what we can to break this cycle ourselves. By making law school expensive for motivated, talented women and men, we are shortchanging ourselves. In this country, lawyers have played the central role as guardians of our democratic republic and architects of economic opportunity and prosperity. They will be needed even more in the future.
Political support for legal education has not been a success. It’s created too many law schools, too many law school graduates, and too much unpayable student debt. For example, the NALP just reported that the percent of 2013 graduates employed at all in February 2014 had fallen—negligibly—to 84.5 percent, even though late last year Dean Allard predicted, “[T]he employment rates reported in 2014 will be substantially higher than in 2013.” (More on the NALP report another time.)
Look, good on Brooklyn Law School for unilaterally cutting its tuition next year. It may not be a voluntary rather than demonstrative act like if an elite law school did it to buck the U.S. News rankings, but we can have competent lawyers without student loans and expensive law schools.
On a 25-year fixed repayment the average 2013 Brooklyn Law grad would have to cough up over $750 a month to make his or her student loan payments on $110,000 in debt. Even under the old IBR system, that would require an income of $121,600 per year from day one to escape loan cancelation after 25 years. Since many BLS grads don’t make that kind of income, many will undoubtedly take PAYE and the government will have to write-down the losses. Thus, Allard is right: The beneficiaries of lower law school tuition aren’t just law students but everyone else. Although, it is a “shameful canard” to imply that the federal loan program is a blessing for everyone but law schools and a handful of lucky law students.
Last month I wrote an article for the The Am Law Daily about the After the JD project, a longitudinal study that measures employment outcomes for people who passed the bar exam in 2000. I thought it might be interesting to offer, as an appendix, the Official Guide‘s employment outcomes for Y2K law grads (they’re in the ’03 edition). Obviously, this isn’t a perfect fit as some people who passed the bar in 2000 graduated earlier, but the overlap should be fairly significant.
Back in those days, though, the Official Guide wasn’t the treasure trove of knowledge that the ABA’s employment questionnaire reports are now, and it’s certainly not as detailed as the After the JD’s information is. However, for those interested in getting a sense of the legal market many of the After the JD cohort entered into by law school, look no further.
To conserve blog space, the tables will follow the jump.
Record, that is, going back to 2009. If you have data from earlier, lemme know.
Each year, accompanying the U.S. News rankings is the online magazine’s list of law schools by graduate debt. The law schools are required to report this information to the ABA, but the ABA inexplicably doesn’t release it to the public, even though it’s one of the most useful things people studying law schools would like to know about. Instead, the ABA takes an unweighted average of the numbers and posts it in this pdf. Thus, for some reason, we must rely on U.S. News, and of course, law schools can decline to transmit their graduates’ average debt numbers.
On average, about four law schools (excluding Widener University’s Harrisburg campus, the three Puerto Rico law schools, and Belmont because I don’t think it’s had any graduates yet) don’t report average graduate debt levels. The previous record was six in 2010. This year, as many as fourteen chose not to. Here’s the list and their last reported average graduate debt levels:
Arizona Summit (formerly Phoenix) – $162,627 [UPDATE: Per the comments below, Arizona Summit Law School’s Web site posts its 2012-13 graduates’ average amount borrowed as $184,825.]
Southwestern – $147,976
Atlanta’s John Marshall – $142,515
Cornell – $140,000
Touro – $137,781
Campbell – $130,428
Santa Clara – $129,621
Loyola (La.) – $124,335
Thomas M. Cooley – $122,395
Appalachian – $114,740
La Verne – $112,628
Texas Southern – $99,992
Florida A&M (two years in a row) – $96,934
Rutgers-Camden – $93,990
Most of the non-reporters are private law schools and five are free-standing privates. Four are in California. All of them tend to have higher debt levels than the norm, so any weighted-average law school debt figure will skew downward. This is important because the unweighted average law school debt level appears to have declined, but that’s attributable to non-reporting—not reduced average costs or less Grad PLUS borrowing. Last year these schools graduated 3,724 students, eight percent of the total.
Other law schools deserve dishonorable mention for misreporting:
- Barry University didn’t report its average graduate debt level last year, but two years ago it was $137,680; this year it’s only $47,799, suggesting it reported its third-year students’ annual debt and not graduate debt like it was supposed to. There was a flap about this last year, so it’s surprising anyone would make this mistake again. (Why U.S. News doesn’t notice is another matter.)
- Southern University Law Center’s graduate debt spiked from $21,911 last year to $80,542 this year, indicating it’d been misreporting in previous years. Credit for the correction, discredit for misreporting in previous years.
- University of District of Columbia reported its average graduate debt for the first time in three years.
- University of Indiana-Indianapolis reported its average graduate debt for the first time in four years.
- No law school that reported its average graduate debt omitted the percent of graduates who had student loan debt. This had occurred in previous years but not this year.
I don’t know why law schools neglect to report their average graduate debt levels. If I were paranoid, I’d say that it makes high-debt/poor-outcome schools look unappealing, and since there’s no punishment for not reporting, they don’t. I do think it’s bad for law schools to not report average debt levels, and the high number of non-reports this year doesn’t make law schools look particularly transparent in general.
[UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the numbers thrown around here are average amounts borrowed and not average indebtedness, which would include accrued interest.]