The news just keeps getting worse — at least as far as financing a legal education goes.
Law School Transparency has recalculated its estimates of the debt that law students stand to incur after discovering that a number of schools had low-balled the cost-of-living figures that they provided to U.S. News & World Report. On average, schools underreported those expenses — upon which the organization pegged its initial estimates — by $5,000, according to the Law School Transparency’s executive director, Kyle McEntee.
Additionally, the organization made several mistakes in its handling of the U.S. News data, which contributed to the problems, he said.
Recalculating using the cost-of-living figures the schools posted on their Web sites pushed the debt estimates even higher. For the class of 2015 — that is, students who will enroll next fall — the new figure is $210,796 (compared to the initial estimate of $195,265). For the class of 2016, the new figure is $216,406 (compared to 200,595).
Those projections assume students rely on federal loans to pay the full cost of tuition and living expenses, and that students attending public institutions pay the higher, non-resident tuition rates. The estimates account for interest, tuition increases and inflation.
Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, flagged the discrepancy in the cost-of-living figures, which typically include room, board, books and fees, medical costs and other personal and entertainment expenses. Adler noticed significant differences in the cost-of-living figures provided by different law schools within the same metropolitan areas.
To name one example, Adler cited the cost of living reported to U.S. News by the City University of New York — $7,425. By contrast, the school reported the total cost of living figure as $17,943 on its own Web site, Adler noted.
In reality, Law School Transparency initially botched the transfer of data from U.S. News, in the case of CUNY, and did not include the $8,691 igure the school provided for miscellaneous expenses. The $7,425 was for the room and board category only, which still appears to be a relatively low figure for the New York area, McEntee said.
CUNY spokeswoman Vivian Todini said the law school’s housing budget is determined by the central university administration and in 2010 worked out to $825 per month over the nine-month academic year.
In a May 3 post on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, Adler chided Law School Transparency for not catching the discrepancies. He noted that a $7,425 cost-of-living allocation for New York City, which happens to be one of the most expensive cities in the country, should have raised a red flag.
“Law schools deserve criticism for their relative lack of transparency, as does U.S. News insofar as it publishes inaccurate information or presents a misleading picture of specific schools,” he wrote. “But the self-appointed watchmen of law school transparency should be held to a high standard as well, and need to be more careful about presenting false or misleading information themselves, whatever the source.”
McEntee apologized for the oversight, calling it “deeply embarrassing.” But he questioned why the numbers schools reported to U.S. News were different from what the schools reported on their own Web sites.
“It’s better to get the data straight from the schools themselves rather than through a third party,” McEntee said May 4. “That’s what we’ll do from now on, as much as possible.”
Correcting the estimates isn’t the only update Law School Transparency has made to the comprehensive database of post-graduate information that the group debuted on April 30. The debt projections initially only included out-of-state tuition figures for public schools. The organization has since added debt projections using in-state tuition figures. It projects that, on average, in-state members of the class of 2015 at public law schools will owe $146,314, while the class of 2016 will owe $150,081.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.