Tuition three times faster than inflation, but some schools buck the trend

Tuition for private law schools grew from an average of $21,790 in 2000 to $37,702 in 2010, an increase of 73 percent.

Public schools have increased their tuition at a far higher percent — more than 150 percent. Tuition for residents has increased from $7,790 in 2000 to more than $20,000 in 2010.

But a handful of schools have bucked the trend, and more are now making an effort, a National Jurist study shows.

Massachusetts School of Law, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, has only increased its tuition by 22 percent — from $12,300 in 2000 to $14,990 in 2010. It is followed by The University of District of Columbia, a public school, which has seen tuition increase by only 33 percent — from $7,135 to $9,480.

The law schools at St. Thomas University in Miami and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio follow with 45 percent and 48 percent growth, respectively.

Overall, however, only eleven law schools have kept tuition below 60 percent growth over the past ten years. Inflation has grown by 25 percent over the same period.

A higher number of law schools — 36 — have kept tuition increases below $10,000. Most of these are public schools that started with very low tuition.

Still, more schools now plan either no tuition increases or are offering current students flat-rate tuition. Schools planning no increases or very low increases include University of Tulsa School of Law, Michigan State University College of Law, St. Louis University School of Law, South Texas College of Law in Houston.

New York Law School, the University of Illinois, and Mississippi College of Law in Jackson offer a flat rate, where the tuition does not increase for a student after they enroll. University of Texas School of Law offers a guarantee that the tuition will not increase for two years. 

While many schools are now taking steps to cut tuition increases, Massachusetts School of Law has always kept a sharp eye on expenses.

“We are very cost conscious,” said Dean Lawrence Velvel. “We exist to serve those who are not among the wealthy.”

Massachusetts School of Law, which is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, decided in the 1990s that it would not follow the ABA guidelines for faculty. It sued the ABA, but eventually decided to stay unaccredited rather than change its make-up. Its tuition in 2010 was only $14,990.

“The reason our tuition is so low is that we don’t fulfill the ABA rules,” Velvel said. “We have a small faculty. They’re well paid but not outrageously paid as they are at big name law schools. They also teach more course hours per semester than at many law schools — like eight to 10 hours a semester.”

Others have also blamed rising tuition on ABA standards – specifically related to the high cost of faculty. But Matt Leichter, a 2008 graduate of Marquette University, has done research that shows the ABA standards, by themselves, do not explain the high tuition increases. Faculty-to-student ratios at almost all law schools are lower than the ABA standards allow.

Leichter, who publishes a blog on law school tuition, said the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings also drive competition among schools, increasing tuition. But he said, U.S. News amplifies costs at law schools, but is not the sole reason. 

He said the final reason for tuition hikes is the federal loan program.

Andrew Gillen, with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, recently highlighted the issue in an article. He said that law school tuition has increased at a pace faster than undergraduate tuition because graduate students can borrow more through the Stafford loan than undergrads.

“This allows law schools to all but ignore capacity concerns, focusing instead on revenue and selectivity considerations,” he writes.

Tuition growth by %
Massachusetts School of Law              21.9%
University of the District of Columbia  32.9%
St. Thomas University School of Law 45.0%
St. Mary's University School of Law    48.1%
Catholic University                                 52.6%
Stetson University College of Law      55.9%
South Texas College of Law                56.2%
University of Miami School of Law      57.3%
Boston College Law School                 58.2%
University of St. Thomas, Mn                59.2%
Loyola University Chicago                   59.2%
Nova Southeastern University            60.1%
Western State University                      60.1%
New York University                              60.6%
University of Dayton School of Law    61.7%
University of Montana                           61.7%
University of San Francisco                 63.1%
Boston University School of Law        63.1%
Willamette University                            63.2%
George Washington University           63.8%


Tuition growth by dollars
University of the District of Columbia $2,345
Massachusetts School of Law             $2,690
University of Montana                           $4,220
Brigham Young University                   $4,720
Southern University Law Center        $5,190
CUNY School of Law                            $5,200
University of Mississippi                       $5,594
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville   $5,615
University of North Dakota                   $5,655
University of South Dakota                  $5,667
University of Arkansas at Little Rock $5,891
University of Missouri — Kansas City  $6,104
University of Wyoming                         $6,644
University of Hawaii  School of Law $7,226
University of Missouri — Columbia  $7,339
Texas Southern University                 $7,615
North Carolina Central University    $7,631
Northern Kentucky University           $8,026
Temple University                               $8,188
University of Nebraska                      $8,344
University of Kansas                          $8,379
West Virginia University                    $8,466
University of Idaho College of Law $8,524
University of Tennessee                   $8,592
University of New Mexico                 $8,620
Southern Illinois University              $8,622
University of Memphis                      $8,681
Washburn University                        $8,918
Louisiana State University              $8,984
Georgia State University                 $9,070
St. Mary's University                         $9,141
South Texas College of Law          $9,480
University of Louisville                     $9,485
SUNY — Buffalo Law School         $9,487
Northern Illinois University             $9,772
Cleveland State University             $9,887


The full version of this story will appear in the Spring issue of preLaw magazine