Did you know that Kansas Law charges $21,173 for in-state, resident tuition? That Iowa Law charges $51,864 for non-resident tuition?
Did you know that the interest rates for graduate federal direct loans are 7.1% and 8.1%?
Well I hope you don’t know any of that, because all of that is grossly inaccurate. In fact, here at Kansas we posted our tuition rate of $19,985 in July 2014. Iowa Law has made available its $41,296 annual non-resident tuition available for a similar time period. As for the federal direct loan interest rates, the Department of Education posted the correct interest rates for student loans way back in May 2014 (between 5.41% and 7.21% depending on when the first disbursement occurred). So you would think a webpage that estimates how much it costs to attend law school for the Class of 2013 would use these published figures. Well, despite this data being freely available and very easy to find, Law School Transparency does not use this information when calculating their cost of attendance estimates. Instead of using accurate, available data, they rely on projected estimates for law school tuition and for federal loan interest rates, which is another way of saying they’re using guesstimated data instead of real, available data. As a consequence, their estimate assumes Iowa students are paying $51,864 when we know they are paying $41,296. Not surprisingly, this error causes LST to significantly over-estimate the cost of law school. This is not specific to the entry for Kansas or Iowa, they have used the same method for all 200+ law school entries on their website.
I understand that if you dig deep into the webpage, you can see what LST was doing here. On the Iowa “costs” webpage which is tailored to the Class of 2013, when they say “Non-resident Tuition: $51,864”, they don’t actually mean that’s the tuition for U. of Iowa for the Class of 2013. If you carefully move your cursor to the very tiny and easy to miss “?”, you will see that that figure is an estimate based on the prior year’s tuition in relation to tuition growth during the five years prior to the current year (2008-2013 instead of the more timely 2009-2014). Took me a number of visits to the LST website before I figured out that “tuition” doesn’t necessarily mean tuition on the LST webpage, it often means a guess at what tuition might be. Which, again, is a bit strange considering the actual data is freely available. Isn’t this the same kind of sleight of hand that LST has accused law schools of doing?
Listen, I like Law School Transparency. I think they’ve been effective pushing law schools to be more accurate and transparent in their reporting, and that’s a good thing. And I suspect this is a product of a bungled, confusing webpage and a failure to make timely updates, rather than some devious plan to mislead the public. But the website does mislead its readers into thinking the cost of law school is higher than it actually is. I think it’s fair to expect LST to hold itself to the same standards it expects of law schools. If law schools were reporting estimated LSAT and GPA medians instead of using actual available data, I think LST would be justified in strongly criticizing law schools for the practice. And vice versa.
LST presumably knows these numbers are wrong, which raises the question as to what is LST’s duty to correct the record? As Ben Barros posted last week, followers of LST organized to update all 200+ ABA accredited law schools’ wikipedia entries with tuition and employment information based on LST’s faulty numbers. Will LST correct its own website? Will it encourage its followers to correct the Wikipedia entries? Will it contact journalists who have published inaccurate data based on the LST data?
Update: I encourage readers to scroll down to Kyle McEntee's response in the comments section, which got caught in the spam filter. I'd also like to second Bernie Burk's thumbs up for LST's new podcast series. I've only listened to the first one, but it sounds like a great series.
Update #2: Kyle mentions he's been trying to get updated tuition and cost data from the ABA. In December, the ABA published every school's Standard 509 reports, which includes the relevant data for tuition, fees and cost of attendance. You can find it at http://www.abarequireddisclosures.org.
Update #3: Mack, I have removed the posts related to the spam filter because they are off-topic and I have nothing to do with the settings on the spam filter.
Update #4: Several commenters have suggested I should have contacted LST about this issue prior to this post. I did raise this issue more than two weeks ago in the comments section to Ben Barros' post. Kyle McEntee responded he would update when new data became available, but that he would not update or correct any previously posted erroneous data. Despite having been notified that the interest rates were inaccurate, he did not make a correction or notification on the LST website. That exchange is what prompted this post. You can review the exchange at http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2015/01/law-school-transparency-wikipedia-pages-and-law-school-debt.html