At Least Something’s Up in a Down Economy: Mid-Tier Law Schools Top Tuition Increases

Now that the chatter about who fell out of the top 5 law schools in the 2010 US News rankings has subsided, we can begin an annual tradition of correlating the rankings and tuition costs.

Let’s get the general rise in tuition out of the way.  Despite an economy in which there is virtually no inflation—and some deflation—annual tuition costs rose pretty much across the board.  Tuition among the top 25 law schools rose an average of 6.5%; for the remainder of the top 100, 4.9%.  As long as there are loans available and excess demand for law school seats, law schools won’t stop raising tuition.  Enough said about that.

The more interesting data is that while the top 5 schools boosted tuition an average of 5.3%, schools ranked 11-25 outpaced the top 10 with an average increase of 6.5%, and schools ranked 42-63 actually outpaced everyone else in the top 100, raising tuition an average of 8.7%.  Almost 10%.

Of course, the absolute average tuition costs for a 3-year law school education (out-of state tuition), at this year’s rates and assuming no further tuition increases, fees, etc., are staggering: for the top 10, $137,000; for 11-25, $130,000; for schools ranked below 25, $104,000.  These differences are essentially rounding errors, in that the higher tuition costs for top 10 schools are quickly covered by a much higher average income for top 10 graduates.

The job market is, of course, softer for current graduates than it has been for a long time.  We’ve noted that on our website. NALP confirms that employment for recent graduates is down and high-quality employment is down even further.  Still, as we predicted earlier, the benefits from the increase in the applicant pool will be “disproportionately distributed to middle- and lower-ranked schools.”  The opportunity to extract a tuition premium (beyond those of the top 5) is one of those benefits.

There’s really no point in being outraged about any of this if you intend to make an application to law school and go through the law school admissions process.  Law schools are running a business and law school applicants should similarly be making, at least in part, a business decision.  Many law school classmates and I turned down a lot of free money from other schools to go to Yale Law School—and while I can’t speak for them, I did it because I thought it was the best investment in my career opportunities.

Thus, any applicant with, say, a GPA/projected LSAT/biographical profile that would normally land her in mid-tier law schools ranked 42-63 should ask herself whether the career potential (both in earnings after law school and career flexibility) at schools ranked 42-63 really justifies an 8.7% increase in tuition.  If it doesn’t (and in a weak market, it’s hard to see how it could), then it’s often worth taking extra time, effort and money to try to break out of that group into a higher law school cohort.

A lot of people go to law school because they think that they’re really not that great with numbers or business.  If there’s an upside to law school applicants in the persistent rise in law school costs (and the debt that students will need to take out to service those costs), it may be that applicants will have to develop more business acumen—they will have to think of law school education as an investment and consider a lot more carefully how that investment can be maximized—during law school and before.  It’s getting hard to afford doing anything less.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on June 14, 2010.

6 Responses to “At Least Something’s Up in a Down Economy: Mid-Tier Law Schools Top Tuition Increases”

  1. […] George Washington had a good year, rising in the US News rankings from 28 to 20, although that news was somewhat offset by the departure of its dean.  Of course, the school also raised its tuition by 5.25%, which was actually less than the average increase of 6.5% for top 25-ranked schools. […]

  2. […] law school seats available has been virtually flat.  That means—simple supply and demand—that significant tuition increases have been possible (particularly at mid-tier schools), so that law school students, on average, are […]

  3. […] 5.  Tuitions continue to rise. […]

  4. […] highest in the law schools ranked 42-63 in the US News rankings.  Last year alone, those schools raised tuition an average of 8.7%.  Now, that’s a lot (the top 5 raised tuition an average of 5.3%), especially since those […]

  5. […] That’s literally payback for the last couple of years, when the highest percentage tuition increases were not delivered by top 10 or top 20 schools but by mid- and …. […]

  6. […] on law school value, and so in addition to discussing the rankings generally, we’ve done an annual analysis of the tuition costs of law school by rank when the U.S. News rankings […]

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