The number of persons applying to for Fall 2010 seats at ABA law schools fell by by ten percent or more. According to the LSAC's "LSATs Administered," 26,812 persons took the LSAT in June 2011 , as compared to 32,973 persons in June 2010--a year-over-year drop of 18.7%. But how closely does the number of June takers, follow the total number of takers for that admission year (June, October, December and February)? The correlation coefficient (R) for takers is 0.907, or a coefficient of determination (R-squared) of 0.823. The correlation coefficient (R) for percent changes is slightly lower, at 0.853 (R-squared = 0.727).
In looking at
- the LSAC Volume Summary,
- the various LSAC Technical Reports for various years on LSAT Performance with Regional, Gender and Racial/Ethnic Breakdowns, and
- The ABA's statistics on Enrollment and Degrees Awarded,
I noticed some interesting patterns in the annual numbers for LSAT takers, (preliminary) ABA applicants, and first-year enrollment in ABA law schools:
From 1991-1992 through 2002-2003. the persons taking the LSAT fell sharply over five years--almost 30%. The number of takers did not fully recover to 1991-1992 levels until 2002-2003, after a sharp rise--35%--in two years. The number of takers soon fell to 2001-2002 levels until 2009-2010, with an especially sharp year-over year rise in 2009-2010 of almost 11%. The LSAC has not yet posted the number of takers for 2010-2011, but the unofficial word is that demand fell by about 11%.
Unsurprisingly, first-year enrollment at ABA schools only flickered, actually rising through Fall 1994, before settling back to Fall 1992 levels by Fall 1997. Since Fall 2000, first-year enrollment has largely risen steadily, despite the decline in takers during the mid 2000s.
What seems surprising, but should not, is the increasing disconnect between takers and applicants. As the next chart shows, the application rate--the percent of takers that apply to ABA law schools--has fallen steadily since 2003-2004. Over that same period, the enrollment rate--the percent of applicants that are accepted and enroll in an ABA law school has increased from below 50% to above 60%. The numbers for the 2009-2010 application year have not yet been released. but I imagine that they will show a sharp increase in the enrollment rate.
Two years ago, in Do We Need More Law Schools? and Flat Demand and More Law Schools (both on Law by the Numbers), I discussed problems with the demand for law school and the need to fill an increasing number of seats in entering classes. Notwithstanding the ABA's action on University of La Verne ( ABA Pulls La Verne's Accreditation and La Verne to Reapply for Provisional Accreditation), the number of law schools, and first-year seats, continues to grow. After a Great Recession-induced blip in applicants for the 2009 and 2010 classes, the number of applicants for the 2011 class fell.
If the sharp drop in takers in June 2011 continues for the application year, or even if the downward trend in the percentage of takers actually applying to law school continues, law schools will be forced to choose between
- cutting first-year enrollment or
- dipping ever deeper into the applicant pool.
If law schools take the second course, and just fill seats, the result should be falling academic credentials of entering classes. Certainly, that is what the corrected medians for the University of Illinois shows--a 4-point year-over-year drop in the LSAT median from Fall 2010 to Fall 2011. Regardless of what an LSAT score may say about applicants individually, it does say a lot about groups (The LSAT-free Illlusion). With the ABA poised to raise minimum Bar passage standards for law schools (ABA Standards and Bar Passage Rates), lower entering-class academic credentials may well put the accreditation of lower-tier law schools, especially those in California, at risk (Interpretation 301-6: Low LSATs and High "Cut Scores").