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Law School Admissions Trend to Watch For: Lower Tuition

It was only a matter of time before a law school did it, and Arizona decided to be the trailblazer.

After years of falling application numbers, a law school finally cut its tuition.

Many law schools have frozen increases, and other have upped their scholarship offers, but no one has taken the step of lowering tuition — all in the face of far-above-inflation tuition raises over the past decade coupled with a decline in law school applicants.

At the University of Arizona, tuition will drop 11% in-state and 8% non-residents, bringing the tuition to $24,381 and $38,841, respectively. Completely reasonable.

First, it must be stated that bringing law school tuition down can only be a good thing. Most law schools in the current market are not offering their graduates the employment prospects that justify the huge cost of tuition. Servicing the amount of debt the average law student has just isn’t manageable unless you have a job that’s paying close to (or higher than, depending on the law school) six figures.

Second, students should keep their eyes open for law schools playing tricks with their numbers. Sure, tuition might go down, but scholarship offers might go down with them. If you cut tuition by $8K, but then decrease your average scholarship by the same amount, you’re still out the same amount of cash. I don’t know that any law school is going to try this, but I’d be shocked if a few of them didn’t play with their numbers in this manner.

Finally, will lowering tuition be a trend for law schools? Personally, I think so. Law school application numbers are continuing to decline, and I don’t see them bouncing back any time soon. The economy would have to radically shift in a positive direction to allow for the legal market to rebound to pre-2008 levels. Even if that happens, there have been some shifts in the legal market that might not be reversed. The value of a law degree isn’t what it used to be, and as people realize that, they’ll be willing to spend less on it.

So I expect to see law schools decrease tuition to bring the cost in line with the value, but also to attract applicants. The recommendation to pre-law students always used to be to enroll in the highest-ranked school to which they were admitted. Now, the scholarship offer plays just as large a role as the ranking. As students adjust their applications to take this into account, some schools will try to entice students with an “across the board scholarship,” i.e. a tuition cut (since they have the same effect). That way, students will go in knowing they’re paying less. And as those schools see increased enrollments because of the better value for the dollar, other schools will have to follow suit. I wouldn’t expect this at top law schools, but I would certainly expect it everywhere else.