Albany Law School of Union University, in a nod to the current recession, is freezing its tuition for the 2009-10 school year.

“My feeling right now is this is the rainy day everybody saves for,” said Thomas F. Guernsey, president and dean of Albany Law School, in Albany, N.Y. In “these particularly uncertain times, we want to do what we can to make it easier for students who are the ones who are incurring all this debt.” Albany Law School’s current annual tuition is $38,900. The school also plans to increase scholarships for the upcoming year from its current annual level of $4.3 million.

That’s not to say Albany Law School, which is private and independent, is immune from economic pressures, Guernsey said. Annual giving from alumni is anticipated to be down by 10% for the fiscal year ending on June 30. And the school is considering various cost-cutting measures, such as reducing the number of public programs that involve speakers and travel costs, temporarily halting specialized courses that have a handful of students in them, and converting paper copying to electronic storage. But, he emphasized, the school is not considering layoffs.

Most other law schools have raised tuition for the 2009-10 school year by 3% to 15%. Stanford Law School, for example, announced this month that it would raise tuition for law school students by about 3.75% for the upcoming year. Other schools have not made announcements yet.

Tuition up in St. Louis

Saint Louis University School of Law, another private school, is raising its tuition for the upcoming school year, but only by 3%. In general, tuition has increased by about 5% each year at the school.

“We were very conscious of the challenges of our students in these economic times,” said Kathleen Parvis, assistant dean for communications at Saint Louis University School of Law. At the same time, she said, the school’s budget is based on tuition, and certain costs, such as utilities and maintenance of the building, have continued to rise.

Budget cuts in some states are forcing public law schools to debate tuition increases. In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon has proposed to the legislature that if the state’s higher education budget does not get cut, there would be no tuition increases at colleges and universities.

“I do think there’s a realistic possibility that it will happen,” said Ellen Suni, dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, where annual tuition and fees total about $15,000 for students living in state and about $29,000 for those out of state, although most students are allowed to establish residency after their first year, she said. Last year, tuition went up by 3.8%.

She said if the state legislature cuts the school’s budget, tuition hikes are necessary to offset other costs, such as competitive faculty salaries and library expenses that have gone up by more than 10% each year. And the school already has done some cost cutting, such as instituting a hiring freeze two months ago.

“The hope is you don’t have to lay people off, but there’s always that possibility,” she said.