Law Students

Study finds widening gap in expected law school debt based on race and LSAT score

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The increased cost of attending law school falls most heavily on blacks, Hispanics and those with low LSAT scores, according to results from a 2015 survey of law students.

Overall, 44 percent of surveyed law students expect to owe more than $100,000 in student debt after graduation and 30 percent overall expect to owe more than $120,000. Those 2015 numbers are unchanged from 2011, the last time the survey was taken, according to the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (PDF).

But 61 percent of black law students and 56 percent of Hispanic law students in the 2015 survey expected debt above $100,000, compared to about 40 percent of white and Asian students. And 43 percent of black law students in 2015 expected debt above $120,000.

The debt disparities between groups were most intense in 2015. In 2006 the disparities were only marginal and in 2011 they began to emerge.

There were also disparities based on LSAT scores, with those in the lower ranges predicting higher debts. Among those with LSAT scores of 145 or below, 52 percent expected to owe more than $120,000, compared to 15 percent in 2006.

The survey asked law students to estimate their expected debt within $20,000 ranges.

The survey also asked a subset of students about stress and anxiety for the first time. Seventy percent of those who expected to owe more than $120,000 reported high levels of stress relating to finances and student loans.

The National Law Journal (sub. req.) spoke with the director of the survey, Saint Louis University law professor Aaron Taylor. He said the differences in debt levels based on race and LSAT scores suggest that those with low LSAT scores and blacks and Hispanics are paying more for law school than others, effectively subsidizing the other groups.

“Most of the higher costs are being born by those students in the lowest financial position with the least ability to take on those costs,” Taylor told the publication. “Many students are graduating law school with a debt they won’t ever be able to pay off.”

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