Law Schools

Law school debt--and private school tuition revenue--may be declining

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When inflation is calculated in, 115 law schools have seen students’ debt loads decline between 2013 and 2016, according to Derek T. Muller, who blogs at Excess of Democracy.

The Pepperdine University School of Law professor’s numbers are based on U.S. News & World Report debt rankings and a 3 percent inflation adjustment, he wrote in a March 20 post. Cautioning that the publication’s debt information had limited value, Muller whittled his list down to 163 schools after removing the ones that reported “more than 100 percent of graduates” took on debt. He also removed three Puerto Rico schools from his list. Only 48 law schools on his list showed inflation-adjusted tuition increases.

A potential reason for the trend, Muller wrote, could be that fewer law school students pay full tuition. There’s more competition among law schools for students as class sizes shrink and students are “increasingly pursuing options at institutions that offer them tuition discounts,” Mueller wrote.

Also, it appears that tuition at private law schools is declining, says Paul F. Campos, a law professor at University of Colorado Boulder. His research, which is ongoing, focuses on grants and scholarships listed on private law schools’ 509 Reports, between 2011 and 2015.

He found that the schools’ “effective” law school tuition—the tuition listed, minus discounts from grants and scholarships—declined by 10.6 percent between 2011 and 2015.

“If one excludes elite schools (at which effective tuition rose by an average of 9 percent over this time) the average decline was 12.5 percent,” Campos wrote in an email to the ABA Journal, noting that his figures were also inflation-adjusted.

“When combined with a 23 percent decline in JD enrollment between 2011 and 2015, this indicates that total tuition revenue from JD students declined by about 30 percent over this time frame,” Campos added.

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