It still ain’t cheap, but officials at Northwestern University School of Law announced on March 27 that they would limit the tuition increase for the J.D. program next year to roughly the rate of inflation.

The 3 percent climb from $51,620 to $53,168 represents the lowest percentage increase at the law school in at least 40 years, administrators said.

“During these challenging economic times, the law school is committed to addressing rising costs of legal education and corresponding burdens of student indebtedness,” Dean Daniel Rodriguez said. “We are well aware that this is a first step in addressing law school tuition at Northwestern and elsewhere.”

The past academic year brought something of a dubious milestone for law schools: Seven broke through the $50,000 barrier for annual tuition, according to information submitted to the American Bar Association.

On his blog, Rodriguez wrote that limiting tuition increases was “no panacea,” and that the school was also eying cost controls and looking for private donations.

Still, Rodriguez said, a law degree from Northwestern continues to be a “great investment.”

Just a day earlier, the school released employment data for its class of 2011. Northwestern reported to the ABA that nearly 93 percent of those graduates were employed nine months out of school, the vast majority in full-time jobs requiring bar passage. Of the 87 percent of 2011 graduates who reported their salaries to the school, 47 percent said they were earning $160,000 a year or more.

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