Law Schools

This law school had the widest gap between student debt and graduate earnings

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Students at many higher-education schools are facing an unhappy truth: Their student debt dwarfs their salaries two years after graduation.

Graduates of only a dozen law schools take home an annual paycheck after two years that is higher their outstanding debt, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing U.S. Department of Education data for about 200 programs. They include Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

But at other schools, pay is below debt, including for graduates of top 30 law schools George Washington University and Emory University, the article said.

Among top 100 law schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the one with the highest gap between earnings and debt is the University of Miami School of Law. Students there who used federal loans borrowed a median of $163,000. Two years after graduation, half were earning $59,000 or less, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed federal data on earnings for students who graduated in 2015 and 2016 for its article.

The article cited information from the nonprofit advocacy group Law School Transparency, which reports that average annual tuition at private law schools nearly tripled to $49,000, adjusted for inflation, between 1985 and 2019.

But median pay a year after graduation for 2019 law grads was only $72,500 the following year, the article said, citing information from the National Association for Law Placement.

“That is about the same as graduates who finished school a decade earlier,” the article reports.

Tuition increased, the article reports, as law schools created more clinics that gave students practice experience and doled out more money for scholarships to attract the best students—which helps law schools in the rankings.

Many law students with six-figure debt find it difficult to pay off student loans.

“Roughly two in three recent law school graduates hadn’t repaid a dime of their principal balance within two years or had suspended payments altogether,” the article reports. “If the graduates don’t pay down interest—often topping 7% in recent years—their balances will grow, not shrink.“

A University of Miami spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that reducing student debt is of primary importance at the university. The school has graduated “some of the most successful attorneys in Florida and around the country,” the spokesperson said. The dean of George Washington University said many of its law grads go into government and public interest jobs, in which pay is lower than in private law firms.

Michael Simkovic, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, is criticizing the Wall Street Journal’s reporting at Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports.

Simkovic said the Wall Street Journal failed to note that the federal government offered 0% interest forbearance on federal student loans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t compare how law graduates’ loan repayments compared to other student loan borrowers, and didn’t compare law graduates’ earnings to those with only a bachelor’s degree in similar fields.

Simkovic noted data from a third-wave survey taken in 2012 of lawyers who passed the bar in 2000, known as After the JD III. The survey found that graduates of law schools ranked below 100 typically had median salaries in the six figures within 12 year of graduation, Simkovic said.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Law school debt is delaying plans for recent grads”

Corrected Aug. 5 at 9:06 a.m. to report that the author of the blog post was Michael Simkovic.

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