The Ever-Rising Law School Tuition

As the saying goes, there's no business like show business. Except when it comes to the business of law school. With schools charging more for law degrees and schools spending more on teaching just to get a higher ranking for the school, it leaves students asking if there's another way to get a law degree. Is the standard 3-year of schooling and passing the bar exam be the only way to go?

Even with the rise of a 'normal' college education, law schools are able to take their prices to new heights, raising the cost nearly 4 percent faster. It's all due to the pure draw that having a legal diploma brings and the money that is sure to follow. Law schools are even adding new students during one of the worst recessions the legal profession has ever seen. This means a pure profit for schools regardless of what's going on out in the real world. In fact, law schools are bringing in so much cash, they are often times forced to spend as much as 30 perfect of their funds to the universities to help pay for and subsidize the less than profitable degrees. In short, business is good. Very good. And when you're a business making that kind of money, you have the power to raise prices and grow in ways that will make any company jealous. Any business who has that power will find themselves in a position where it's difficult to resist doing just that.

There are those in the profession, though, who claim to be stern critics of this business model. Case in point, take Richard A. Matasar, former dean of the New York Law School. He had repeatedly challenged colleagues and professors to change the basic business model for law schools and put the needs of the students first and foremost. In 2009, at a gathering of the Association of American Law Schools, Mr.Matasar stated, "What I've said to people in giving talks like this in the past is, we should be ashamed of ourselves." He ended his message with a challenge: "We should just shut the damn place down" if a law school can't help students reach their goals. You would think that Mr. Matasar and the New York Law School would've changed the way they do business and conform to his supposed ideals, but they have done nothing themselves to be the standard and bright example to other schools.

The New York Law School was ranked quite low of all the law schools in the country, yet had fees higher than Harvard law school. Even when the legal profession seemed to implode in 2009, N.Y.L.S. grew an impressive 30 percent that fall. Quite a contrary impression the dean himself attempted to set as he also seems to benefit from the current business model. Just like so many well-intending businesses, the law school has fallen into the model of American capitalism and will continue to remain so incredibly durable, even during the toughest of times. There is no need for it to change and evolve. If it works, why fix it? Even when former dean Richard Matasar seems to have the desire to 'radically disrupt the traditional approach to legal education' as was written on his profile. He was no different from the rest, engaging in the same fight for students and dollars that every other school is consumed by.

The ever-growing law school construction boom continues to grow. While other businesses and industries are closing their doors and laying off thousands, the law school industry is building up and out. The Fordham Law School located in New York started building a new 22-story structure in 2011 at a whopping cost of $250 million. The University of Michigan Law School and Baltimore School of Law are also in the boom mix, each putting up their own new additions at more than $100 million each. This is a trend that is exploding clear across the country, each with their own multimillion dollar expansions. The reason for the increase and building expansions follows along with the national trend of the growth in the number of new students enrolling into these schools.

In 2010, there were 49,700 law school students according to the Law School Admission Council. That number was the highest in history and a 7,000 student jump from 2001. As the deans of these universities still pay what they call 'the tax' to their administrations to help fund other programs that aren't nearly as popular and continue to endure the current legal downturn, the schools themselves wade in pools of cash mainly due to the record number of students and the price of a degree continuing to grow. From 1989 to 2009, college tuition jumped by 71 percent. Law school tuition rocketed up 317 percent. This ever-continuing climb is thanks in part to an influential US News rankings, figured out through an algorithm called expenditures per student. That's essentially the cost of teacher's pay and other costs for education divided by the number of students the school has. If a university raises the cost of tuition, they can then say they have also spent more to educate those students to rank higher with US News rankings.

Law schools can raise the prices as high as they desire when they hold the key every student is drawn to: a career in corporate lawyerdom with a six-figure salary as soon as they graduate. The problem now is deciding if finding yourself in $150,000 or more in student debt is worth it as law careers are becoming increasingly scarce. Despite that fact, schools are spinning the opposite story by making it seem like those jobs are in high demand. As impressive as business is going for these schools, they have only one product they sell at a premium: law degrees. That's it. They will spin their product, raise the prices, remind their students of the greener pastures and lure them in with bogus rankings, lacking the liability of being completely honest. Deans will shout 'students first' from their podiums, but the fact remains: business is good.

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