Law School Price Cuts: What's the Real Story?

By William Peacock, Esq. on September 03, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There was an interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal yesterday: a few law schools cut tuition and their enrollment numbers rebounded from the dismal depths of last year, with little impact to their admissions standards.

Which schools? The WSJ cites three that cut the sticker price: the University of Iowa College of Law (#27 per USNWR), Roger Williams University (Rank Not Published per USNWR), and the University of La Verne College of Law (Unranked per USNWR) and a fourth that introduced a grant for in-state residents, Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law (#51 per USNWR).

Is this the cure for student loan debt and decreased law school demand?

We Applaud the Transparency

In an ideal world, all law schools would make their pricing as transparent as the University of La Verne: $25k for full-time students, locked in for all three years, with no discounts for anyone. That's not an endorsement of La Verne -- students should think long and hard about their career prospects if they attend an on-again, off-again, provisionally accredited law school. But the transparency is a nice touch.

Ditto for the "price cuts" and "grants" at the other three schools -- buying a legal education shouldn't be like buying car, with hidden discounts, scholarship negotiation, and hidden fees (tuition hikes).

But It's Not Really a Price Cut, Is It?

But here's the big caveat: this isn't really a price cut. The Journal quotes Moody's seemingly accurate assessment, which cautions that the 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."

Bottom line: law schools have ridiculously high sticker prices, but dole out scholarships and grants to folks with shiny LSAT numbers and GPAs to keep their admissions numbers high enough to maintain their rankings.

Not a Cure

The moves seem like they are paying off for these four schools. For at least one other school, the Ohio Northern University's Pettit College of Law (unranked), a price cut may have stemmed some of the bleeding, but enrollment is still down 8.9 percent.

And the University of Arizona, which announced price cuts last year, hasn't seen any gains in its first-year class size, though its advanced JD for international lawyers (who are given transfer credits for previous studies) has seen a spike in demand after a price cut of approximately 39 percent, reports the WSJ. We're curious to see what the LLM for nonlawyers (again, what?) and the "doctor of juridical science" demand is like.

As Always: Think Before You Enroll

To return to the car analogy, while the sticker price on a Ford Fiesta is lower than a Lexus, if you can get the latter for the same price, it's worth it, isn't it? Transparency is great, but you still should know what you're buying. And you shouldn't settle for a lesser school, or lesser job prospects, because you might save a few bucks this year. (Penny wise. Pound foolish.)

For anyone considering law school, we'll tell you this: study for and nail the LSAT, apply everywhere, and work schools against each other for discounts. Then balance the cost against bar passage rates and employment percentages.

Does it feel like you're buying a used car? Sure. But this whole negotiation and balancing long-term and short-term costs and benefits? It's the same sort of analytic mumbo-jumbo that you'll be doing some day when you're a real lawyer.

You might as well start now.

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