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May 07, 2015


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Paul Campos

Just to add a bit more data to this excellent post and thread:

It appears that in the late 1970s, tuition discounting in American law schools didn't exist. In 1978-79 ABA law schools gave out a total of $13.2 million in scholarships. This means effective tuition (sticker - discounts) was about 96% to 97% of sticker. That in turn suggests that almost all students were paying sticker, and the few that weren't were getting real scholarships, i.e., their tuition was actually paid for by income from endowments for that purpose.

By 1991, however, tuition discounting had clearly come into existence, as by then schools were giving out nearly $140 million per year in "scholarships." That figure grew to $1.08 billion by 2012-13, and is probably a good deal higher now.

What this means is that average tuition (sticker minus discounts) declined from 96%-97% in the late 1970s, to 89.8% in 1991, to 79.8% in 2012. I suspect that percentage has probably declined a bit more since.

Meanwhile, while 55% of law students were paying sticker in 2001, that figure had declined to 45% by 2012. Putting this together, students who aren't paying sticker are paying on average a little more than half of the advertised tuition.

The problem with all this is that it creates a strong reverse Robin Hood effect, in which the students with the best entrance qualifications, who will on average get better grades (and who no doubt come on average from higher SES backgrounds, have better connections to the legal employment market etc) have their tuition heavily subsidized by students who are much more likely to end up with low-paying legal jobs, or no jobs at all.

And transparency is only a very imperfect solution to this. The extent to which prospective law students are sophisticated consumers of this sort of information varies enormously, and again the problem is that the most vulnerable students -- those with relatively low social capital -- are the least likely to be able to take advantage of what information is now available.

Matt Bodie

John Steele -- do you have a link for that data? Very interesting.

Also -- does anyone have a sense of whether the dramatic change in the market has affected these disappearing scholarships? Perhaps competition between law schools has also dampened this practice, even if students are in a significantly worse bargaining position after their first year. I would imagine it's easier for a student to transfer -- and get a discount -- these days than it was even three years ago. I know the LSATs don't "count" after the first year, but the marginal price of adding an additional student may be low enough that other schools would welcome the transfer paying 75%, 50%, or even 35%.

Of course, no school has a financial incentive to keep full free rides, unless you are buying not only LSATs but also bar results and job placement. Lots of variables to consider.


apropos of nothing, I note that the 1986 film "Soul Man" is about a scam to obtain a law school scholarship.

From Wikipedia - "The movie's protagonist is Mark Watson (Howell), the pampered son from a rich family who is about to attend Harvard Law School along with his best friend Gordon (Gross). Unfortunately, his father's neurotic psychiatrist talks his patient into having more fun for himself instead of spending money on his son. Faced with the horrifying prospect of having to pay for law school by himself, Mark decides to take up a scholarship, but the only suitable one is for African Americans only. So he decides to cheat by using tanning pills in a larger dose than prescribed to appear as an African American. Watson then sets out for Harvard, naïvely believing that blacks have no problems at all in American society."

Kyle McEntee

Matt, I suspect he got the data from LST, which got the data from the ABA. We actually noticed this morning that there were several mistakes within the data. I looked at the original spreadsheet from the ABA and that's where they're from. The ABA has since updated the data, and we have too.

You can view the data here:

John Steele

Yes, I got them from LST, which drew them from ABA, and I rounded to the tenth. Given Kyle's comment, I am reposting the corrected numbers -- which to my mind still corroborate the last couple of paragraphs from the Campos comment. (If the mods want to delete the uncorrected stats from my prior comment, that's fine by me.)

University of New Hampshire (69%); Howard University (69%); John Marshall Law School – Atlanta (66%); Golden Gate University (65%); University of Akron (63%); University of Arkansas – Fayetteville (59%); Charlotte School of Law (58%); Southern University Law Center (56%); Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (55%); University of San Francisco (55%); Texas A&M (54%); Appalachian School of Law (54%); St. John's University (54%); Chapman University (52%); John Marshall Law School – Chicago (51%); Hofstra University (51%); Wake Forest University (51%); Arizona Summit Law School (50%).

My intuition says that although we seen a reduction in the very highest rates of non-retention since the ABA forced disclosure, there are still lots of high rates. That might suggest that non-retention hits hardest at the students who have fewer choices.



Now, can we line up the top non-retentionists with their job placement rates?

Could be very interesting ...

Induced to enroll with a "Free ride" and a nearly 70% chance that "free ride" will disappear after year one: only to find that chances of FT LT JD required work (i.e., a job as a lawyer) is about 25% or less.

Nice! Paragons of virtue take solace: S, over at another blog, is explaining that the chances of becoming a lawyer are "too confusing" to disclose and that scholarships pinned to a brutal curve (which in turn relies on amazingly uncertain and subjective grading of four or five essays) are preferable, because otherwise folks in law school won't "work hard." S, of course, is a highly credentialed expert with a long track record in practice at the highest levels of labor economics, psychology, social science, educational design, statistics, trade practices and ethics.

John Steele

anon, if you're going to make that chart, please add a column for the average debt loads at those schools.


"Telman and Simkovic make one other argument I want to address before returning to our friend Big Jule. They assert that “Hunger Games”-style financial aid is really good for students because it incentivizes them to work hard."

That's a great argument - so great, in fact, that I think we should introduce "conditional tenure", by allowing law schools to fire 10% of their tenured faculty every year (like Jack Welch used to fire 10% of managers at General Electric every year).

"Conditional tenure" would be really good for law school faculty because it would incentivize them to work hard.


Unfortunately, I still can't discern an answer to this simple question: why spend any time debating views that are clearly the product of dilettantism?

The unseemly nature of some of these views (being put forth elsewhere but debated here), is made even more unseemly by reason of the lack of expertise and funding behind those views. One therefore marvels at the "debate" here ... What really is there to debate?

Shall we debate the proposition that a "free ride" which, for 70% of students, explodes after the first year of law school, is justified because it makes students "work harder"? Or, should be debate whether the non retention rates should be disclosed, else prospective students become "confused" by the facts? Or, perhaps we should debate whether S is correct that no prospective law student should know the placement rate of graduates from a particular law school as lawyers following graduation? Or, perhaps we should debate a mythical "ONE MILLION DOLLAR PREMIUM" earned by reason of attending "law school."

Please. Again, S jumped the shark a long time ago. The recent attention paid to these sorts of propositions in only encouraging the gradual slide into ever more ridiculous contentions and thus, perhaps we would all do better to move on to more logical and supportable views, propounded by persons with the education, training, experience, expertise and demonstrable wisdom in their respective fields of study necessary to credibly examine these issues. Only such persons could contend in any manner worth noting in any way whatsoever that the illogical and unethical practices defended by S are instead justified, and only based on hard evidence, not speculative and often risible musing on a blog.


To John Steeles data in the above post - Wake Forest's website says they have only 2 conditional scholarships a year and the rest automatically renew. Your post says 51% do not retain them. Something is incorrect.

Derek Tokaz


Wake's 509 data says they have 2 and 1 didn't retain it.

John Steele

Plush, thanks! (Because it's from a table I couldn't simply cut and paste, but rather had to look down, look up, type, etc.) That WF entry should be 50, not 51. The list still strikes me as supporting the point under discussion.

Bernie Burk

Derek's clarification raises a point to which I would suggest everyone should be sensitive. In my view, at least, there is a huge difference between a 50% retention rate based on loss of one conditional scholarship out of two, and a 50% rentention rate based on the loss of 70 conditional scholarships out of 140. Only the latter raises an inference that a school might be systematically trying to lure or trap the unwary. I would urge those who want to gather or publicize this information to keep that in mind.


John Steele

Agreed. My point was about the types of schools were you see the higher rates of non-retention and not about any one particular school.


Looks like, if I'm reading the ABA form correctly (and, I'll stand corrected if not)

(entering with/eliminated)
John Marshall
2013-2014 Academic Year 176 90
2012-2013 Academic Year 195 99
2011-2012 Academic Year 238 118
2013-2014 Academic Year 36 25
2012-2013 Academic Year 33 4
2011-2012 Academic Year 66 22
2013-2014 Academic Year 61 42
2012-2013 Academic Year 58 41
2011-2012 Academic Year 59 50
Golden Gate
2013-2014 Academic Year 104 68
2012-2013 Academic Year 146 83
2011-2012 Academic Year 86 43
2013-2014 Academic Year 106 67
2012-2013 Academic Year 108 91
2011-2012 Academic Year 113 89

Those are the top five identified above, I believe.

What's not to like there?

S? Perhaps the students there should have worked a little harder to mention that one, all important issue on the Civ Pro exam, right?

That would have made all the difference in the world.

Maybe ...


And, lest we forget "THE BEST TIME IN HISTORY TO ENROLL IN LAW SCHOOL" admissions sloganeering and come on, here is KU (again, subject to the same caveat that I hope I'm reading the ABA 509 properly and will stand corrected if not):

2013-2014 Academic Year 80 25
2012-2013 Academic Year 93 31
2011-2012 Academic Year 54 18

Slightly better than the worst offenders ... it seems based on the above, but not by much.

Moving beyond KU, but bearing in mind what we have read in these pages, can we imagine the promise, as actually made (not as described in a tiny font on a form that one signs to receive it)?

Should we assume every representation is carefully designed to explain that, because of the curve and subjectivity in grading, there is no objective standard other than the certainty that a recipient of a conditional scholarship (as described) will more likely than not (or, stand a better than 30% probability to) lose this scholarship?

Should we assume that every representation also makes clear that, for some students and especially in the first year, no amount of "hard work" will translate to success?

In fact, should we inform prospective students that organizations with a financial stake in their ability to pull loan dollars are funding "research" by individuals engaged n dilattantism to put out the obviously false notion that "hard work" is all that separates those who successfully retain conditional scholarships from those who do not?

Or, will this claptrap instead be cited as support?


Furthering the discussion by Paul Campos, I wonder if the theory of disparate impact might be applied to law scholarships. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking closely at lending. If merit scholarships are causing unintended negative consequences for disadvantaged groups on a relative basis, they might be illegal.



I too have been wondering about potential liability here.

ARe there any federal prosecutors reading, who are familiar with the statutes that might govern these circumstances?

Isn't it long past the time to begin the process of putting some teeth into enforcement of some basic rules?

A possible start might be to investigate disallowing federal loan guarantees for law schools that "sell" a degree that does not prepare 50% or more of its graduates for the stated purpose for which the degree was earned.

Also, it seems necessary to investigate whether the sort of "scholarships" offered above act as an inducement to enter into the very contracts that afford such a high probability of inefficacy for the stated purpose for which the contracts were made, misleading then for the purpose of greed and self enrichment. Are there not penalties associated with such conduct?

These are questions that should be discussed and debated. The mistake in the past was that young people were the plaintiffs: their plight was too easily disregarded.

Or, must we be satisfied to continue to discuss and "debate" the casual and ridiculous opinions of a dilettant, expressed on a blog on the internet?


Seconding Bernie here. N's matter, response rates matter, and so on.


S has "rebutted" ... on that other blog that promotes his views sort of incessantly.


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