Tuition freezes are so yesterday; waivers of higher out-of-state tuition rates are the new carrot for law schools to lure applicants.

The University of Akron School of Law got the ball rolling on February 6, announcing that it would offer in-state rates to nonresident applicants. The school also will freeze tuition for the entering class of 2013 through graduation.

The moves are intended to make a law degree more affordable — and to encourage prospective students from outside of Ohio to consider Akron, interim dean Elizabeth Reilly said.

"Many law schools have shrunk their programs, or lowered their admission standards, or cut their staffs," Reilly said. "We’ve chosen to focus on what we believe will help our students succeed. They still need a great education, and reasonable priced, so they don’t suffer under the weight of tremendous debt."

Law schools nationwide face a difficult admissions cycle. The number of applicants to American Bar Association-accredited programs was down by about 20 percent as of January, according to the Law School Admission Council, with a projected drop of 38 percent since their peak in 2010.

That has left law schools scrambling to fill their classes. A number of schools announced tuition freezes in 2011, and that tactic has grown more popular since then. Anecdotal evidence indicates that schools also are offering more generous financial aid packages.

Akron’s applicant pool fell by 12 percent last year and this year is experiencing an application decline in line with the national 20 percent drop, Reilly said. Data from the admission council indicate that schools in the Great Lakes and Midwest regions have been hit hardest by declining applications.

Akron appears to be the first public law school to offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students. (Non-Ohioans will still pay a $50-per-semester surcharge in addition to their tuition.)

"As far as we know, this combination of changes is a first," Reilly said. "We’ve seen schools that have done things to reduce tuition, but having a tuition freeze and changing to in-state only tuition is unique."

Akron’s in-state tuition next year will be $21,375 for full-time students. By contrast, nonresident tuition for current 1Ls is $33,349.

Reilly noted that Ohio offers a relatively low cost of living, and that the new tuition policies should pique interest among applicants around the country.

She would not be surprised to see other public law schools follow suit, she said. "We know that money is a big issue for new attorneys, and we’re trying to be responsible to our students. It really felt like the right thing to do."

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.