The competition for would-be law students is heating up in New Jersey. Seton Hall University School of Law has unveiled a tuition reduction program that will bring costs for qualifying students in line with that of its nearest competitor, Rutgers School of Law–Newark.

Applicants accepted into Seton Hall who meet or exceed the national median academic standards—a Law School Admission Test score of 158 and a 3.5 or higher undergraduate grade-point average—will pay $22,330 a year in tuition, rather than the regular $47,330. That’s better than half off.

Administrators said the discount would allow them to offer “a private legal education at a public school price.” Seton Hall’s website says the discount was based on the full-time tuition rate at Rutgers-Newark, a public law school.

Seton Hall University began offering a merit-based tuition discounts for undergraduate students one year ago; the law school is its first graduate program to follow suit.

“The legal industry is going through substantial change, and for those who choose law, we have a duty to respond in a meaningful way—making legal education more practice-oriented and employment-focused as well as more affordable,” dean Patrick Hobbs said.

Law schools have been hit hard during the past two years by declining enrollment. Nearly half of all American Bar Association-accredited law schools enrolled at least 10 percent fewer students this fall than last year.

Seton Hall’s incoming class this year was 23 percent smaller than in 2011, in part by design—the school didn’t want to produce more lawyers than seemed likely to find work, Hobbs said.

Rutgers-Newark saw a decline in new students, too, but it was about half as large as at Seton Hall. The Rutgers campus enrolled a larger number of new students than its cross-town rival for the first time in about a decade, according to dean John Farmer Jr.

Farmer acknowledged no concern that Seton Hall’s tuition discount would draw prospective students away from his school, noting that they traditionally have served different student populations.

“I think it’s a responsible move on Seton Hall’s part,” he said. “The ground is shifting in the legal marketplace, and I think a lot of schools are contemplating something like this. Private schools are facing even more problems, because they are so much more expensive.”

Rutgers-Newark froze tuition this year, and administrators are contemplating a “significant” reduction in tuition next year, Farmer said.

Seton Hall’s tuition discount represents a new approach to merit-based scholarships. Typically, law schools offer such scholarships to admitted applicants on an individual basis. With fewer applicants overall, law schools have been offered scholarships more aggressively, to persuade prospective students to commit.

Seton Hall administrators don’t anticipate any boost in applications this year as a result of the discount, given that the number of people taking the LSAT has continued to decline, Hobbs said. However, he does expect that a higher percentage of the prospects who consider the school ultimately will apply. “We want to provide clarity and predictability about what student will ultimately pay,” he said.

The discount is open to first-year applicants from any state, and they remain eligible for additional scholarship money. The reduced tuition will apply for up to three years, as long as the student stays in the top 75 percent of the class or maintains a cumulative 2.8 GPA.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.