As law schools find themselves competing for talent in a diluted pool of qualified applicants, Seton Hall is using lowered tuition as a lure to attract a better class of student.
Starting next fall, applicants who meet threshold grade point averages and LSAT scores will pay tuition that is less than half of this year’s rate of $47,330. The discounted rate of $22,330 would be less than what Rutgers Law School is charging in-state students this year.
The thresholds — a 158 LSAT score and a 3.5 undergraduate GPA — essentially match the median levels for the classes that entered Seton Hall Law School this fall and last.
The offer is open to full-time and part-time first-year students. Those who maintain a 2.8 grade point average or stay in the top 75 percent of their class are eligible to remain in the program until graduation.
Dean Patrick Hobbs says the half-price plan is meant to provide an incentive for highly qualified individuals who may be opting out of law school because of financial shortcomings and the dismal outlook for good jobs upon graduation.
Nationwide, law school enrollment this fall was down 9 percent from a year ago and 15 percent from the historic high enrollment in fall 2010, according to the American Bar Association.
What’s more, high-achieving undergraduates are the ones deciding on different career paths. The Law School Admissions Council reported in April that law school applications have fallen off significantly among high-scorers taking the LSAT, while applications from lower scorers are steady. The number of people scoring from 170 to 174 on the test declined 20.7 percent in 2011-12 from the previous year, while those scoring below 140 fell off only 4.3 percent.
Hobbs says the tuition discount was part of strategic decision making that will include downsizing the law school. Enrollment, currently about 1,000, will be reduced to 750 for four years from now, and faculty size will decrease by attrition. Faculty compensation is being cut by about 10 percent through diminished raises and incentives rather than reductions in base pay, he says.
Halving tuition may seem dramatic, but many of the eligible students would otherwise receive merit-based financial aid, Hobbs says. Students on the half-price plan are still eligible for scholarships and aid, but the lower rate provides a measure of predictability to their financial planning.
Seton Hall University launched a similar discount program this year for undergraduates. Those with a minimum ACT composite score of 27 or a combined 1200 on the critical reading and math portions of the SAT, with no less than 550 on either section, and are in the top 10 percent of their high school class, may enroll for $10,356 — the same rate for full-time tuition at Rutgers University and a major reduction from Seton Hall’s regular rate of $32,700.
“It worked very well for them,” Hobbs says. “Students, up front, couldn’t gauge the cost of their education. One of the things this did on the undergraduate campus was that students who thought they might like to attend ended up applying because of the predictability of the cost,” he says.