Summary: Various law schools have offered tremendous reductions in tuition in hopes of increasing the size of their first-year classes. Some have seen such increases, however, median LSAT scores and GPAs at some of these schools have also decreased slightly.
It’s a well-known fact that law students graduate with well over $100,000 in debt hanging over their heads as they search for jobs and begin practicing law. As the economy declined, a drop in employment opportunities for attorneys meant that enrollment for law schools all over the country plummeted with it.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in response to the reduced number of applications received, some law schools decided to lower tuition. And it was a good move on their part: these schools will increase their first-year class sizes by 22% to 52% compared with the first-year classes of 2013.
Another law school implemented a grant program to reduce the cost of tuition by close to half for in-state students. That school has also seen a growth in its first-year class.
These schools were faced with a challenge: either maintain tuition revenue by lowering admission requirements, or keep classes smaller to maintain their rankings.
The jump in numbers is nearly unheard of as law schools nationwide have had fewer and fewer students apply for admission. Although there was a slight decrease in the average test scores of these new classes, the increases in enrollment are significant for these schools.
The entering class at the University of Iowa College of Law has increased from 93 students in 2013 to 141 students this year. This increase correlated with a 16% tuition cut. In-state students pay $21,965 in tuition per year, and out-of-state students will pay $39,500.
Gail Agrawal, dean of Iowa Law, explained that tuition was lowered to “remain price competitive and be attentive to the problems of student debt.” Agrawal admitted it was difficult to determine exactly how much of an effect the tuition cut had on the enrollment, because the law school had also increased its outreach efforts and flaunted its job-placement numbers to prospective students.
Roger Williams University School of Law, located in Rhode Island, also saw a jump in enrollment in the first-year class. After tuition was decreased, enrollment shot up by 28%. At the University of La Verne College of Law in California, tuition cuts brought a 22% increase in enrollment.
Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law now offers a $20,000 grant to all in-state students. Such a significant grant is credited with the school’s 46% increase in first-year enrollment. With tuition set at $42,720 at Penn State Law, and without an offering of an in-state tuition rate, the law school was at a disadvantage with other Pennsylvania law schools that did offer in-state tuition. Interim Dean James W. Houck added, “we had more applicants from the state of Pennsylvania, and with better credentials.”
The legal field has suffered major drawbacks in recent years. Whereas enrollment in law schools increased with the decline of the economy, the number of jobs available for new attorneys dropped sharply. This was largely due to reduced demand and the transfer of legal work to outsourcers who could perform the work at a reduced cost.
In response to the decline of jobs available for new attorneys, legal educators have attempted to cut costs and increase enrollment. This has caused many to lay off faculty and staff, revamp course catalogs, and offer additional scholarships to students. However, few law schools have cut their tuition prices, even though it has risen more quickly than inflation.
According to the American Bar Association, the average private law school tuition is $41,985. In 2003, it was $25,574. During this time, the average tuition and fees for in-state students at public law schools more than doubled, with an average of $23,879 in 2013. Some top-notch public law schools charge more than $50,000 per year in tuition. Although many students receive financial aid and scholarships to assist with the hefty expense of law school, the average debt of these students was $84,600 in 2012 for public schools and $122,158 for private schools.
It’s too early to determine how the tuition cuts will affect enrollment in the long term. In 2013, first-year enrollment was at an all-time low since the 1970s. According to the Law School Admission Council, the number of applicants has dropped from 87,500 in 2010 to 54,500 this month. David Strauss, an educational consultant, stated, “The question is, could you bring the price down far enough that it would cause people who didn’t look at you before to look at you.” Strauss has assisted law schools with their institutional strategies.
Other law schools have also witnessed significant changes. Although the size of the first year class at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law has remained stagnant since tuition reductions were recently targeted at non-resident students, the school’s advanced Juris Doctor program for international lawyers has seen an increase in enrollment. The fact that these international attorneys receive credit for prior legal training likely caused the surge. Tuition has dropped 39% to $26,000, and the number of students in this program has increased from five to 33. Dean Marc Miller remarked, “I think pricing has a significant impact.”
Moody’s Investors Service issued a credit-rating analysis earlier this year. It warned that many reductions “simply realign published tuition with what students are paying after financial aid. We do not anticipate the published reductions to result in a sustained increase in demand, though there may be a short-term benefit as price transparency is enhanced.” For example, returning students at Roger Williams University School of Law can choose to keep their existing financial aid and pay the previous tuition rate of $41,400, or they can waive receipt of the award and pay $33,792. A spokeswoman for the school noted, “Many current students are paying less than they did previously, and nobody is paying more.”
However, not all schools that reduced their tuition were so fortunate as to have their enrollment increase. Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law reduced tuition by almost $9,000, but an 8.9% decline in its entering class was reported. Dean Rick Bales remained positive about the tuition cuts, stating. “We are confident that it significantly increased the number of admitted students who decided to attend our law school instead of going elsewhere.” First year enrollment also fell by 21% at the University of Akron School of Law. Both schools are not included on the 100 top-ranked law schools list. However, these two schools maintained their median LSAT scores and even increased their median undergraduate GPA.
The numbers for the other schools that cut tuition fluctuated a bit. At Iowa Law, the median LSAT score dropped one point to 160, but the median GPA increased to 3.64 (up from 3.59 in 2013). Roger Williams’ median LSAT decreased one point to 148, and the school saw a minor decrease in its median GPA, from 3.18 (2013) to 3.16.
Brooklyn Law School will cut its tuition by 15% in 2015. Its first-year enrollment jumped 8.7% this year. However, the median LSAT decreased three points to 156, and the median GPA decreased from 3.40 to 3.31. The decreases aren’t a major concern for Dean Nicholas Allard. “In previous years it’s been higher; it’s been lower; it moves around. We are unwavering in only admitting students who we believe will do well, pass the bar and get a job.”
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