Is the era of law school tuition decreases upon us?
The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved an 11 percent tuition cut for in-state residents at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and an 8 percent reduction for nonresidents.
The move would appear to be the first significant law school tuition reduction since nationwide application totals began to decline in 2011. It offers evidence that the list prices for a law school education, which have far outpaced inflation for more than a decade, are beginning to reflect supply and demand.
A number of law schools have frozen tuition or limited increases, and many have increased scholarship offerings. The University of Akron School of Law is doing away with its out-of-state tuition differential next year. But none has gone as far as actually cutting its list price as Arizona has done.
The decrease is intended in part to make the school more appealing and accessible, said interim law dean Marc Miller. Applications are down by about 10 percent compared to one year ago, although the law school intends to accept applications past the formal February 15 deadline. Nationwide, the number of law school applicants is down by about 17 percent, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Annual tuition for Arizona residents will be $24,381, a cut of about $3,000 per year. Non-resident tuition will be $38,841, about $3,500 less per year.
"This lowers tuition for every one of our current students as well," Miller said. "It means our sticker price is a more accurate reflection of our true cost."
The law school plans to make up for the lost revenue by expanding existing master of laws and doctor of juridical science programs and introducing a new LL.M. for non-lawyers. It also plans to reduce its pool of scholarship money.
The university regents voted to maintain existing tuition rates at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of the Law at $26,267 for resident students and $40,815 for nonresidents.
Arizona’s tuition decrease doesn’t go far enough, said Brian Tamanaha, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and the author of Failing Law Schools.
"Although I applaud it, this strikes me as mostly symbolic," he said. "Their tuition is too high for the types of jobs available in Arizona, so an 11 percent reduction is not enough. Tuition must go below $20,000 for to better align cost and economic return for the majority of students."
Arizona’s class of 2011 reported an average annual salary of about $64,000, based on reporting by slightly more than half the class.
Tamanaha was unsure whether the lower tuition would make the school more competitive with in-state rival ASU but was skeptical that other law schools would voluntarily follow Arizona’s lead. He thought tuition declines of 25 percent or more would be needed to fill the seats as some law schools.
"Where we might see explicit tuition reductions is at law schools struggling with sharp declines in the number of applicants," he said. "They will have no choice but to lower list price."
As for Arizona, administrators plan to market their lower rates to potential students, particularly in California, where resident tuition at public law schools is equal or higher to Arizona’s nonresident tuition, Miller said.
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