Law Schools, Money, Student Loans, Trendspotting

New Tuition Trend: Will 1Ls be Willing to Subsidize 3Ls?

Last week, we set up an open thread for people to discuss the next round of tuition hikes at their law schools. Sadly, it appears that many schools are indeed raising tuition despite the soft economy for legal jobs. Once again, the cost of legal education is proving to be recession proof.

But another, even more disturbing trend could be on the way. At a few schools, the new plan seems to be raise tuition on entering students by a higher percentage than the tuition on returning students. To keep the money rolling in, it looks like this next crop of 1Ls will be subsidizing their jobless, 3L brethren.

The situation at the University of Houston Law Center could be a harbinger of an even darker future for the class of 2013…

The Houston Chronicle reports that UH Law wants to charge like the University of Texas — despite the fact that it can’t produce jobs like the Austin powerhouse:

Regents approved a 3.95 percent tuition increase for undergraduates Tuesday — $138 a semester more for a full-time student. Other UH campuses will see similar hikes.

And law students will pay far more, as regents approved a 16.5 percent increase for tuition at the law school, moving closer in cost to the South Texas College of Law and the University of Texas at Austin…

New students will pay most. Those who enroll next fall will pay 26.5 percent more — an increase of about $5,500 — while current students will see their tuition rise 12 percent, an increase of about $2,500.

The Chronicle managed to find some addled UH 3L who went on record supporting the tuition increase:

But Erin Ferris, a third-year law student, said students understand the reasons for the increase. “The overwhelming response from the student body is, we need to preserve the rankings and get better,” she said.

Yeah, the “overwhelming response” of (both) University of Houston law students who emailed Above the Law was … not printable on a family website. Suffice it to say that they strongly disagree with Erin Ferris.

Look, if your law school tells you it has to raise tuition by 16.5% in order to maintain its underwhelming #60 U.S. News ranking and you believe it, then you kind of deserve all of the terrible things that are going to happen to you while you struggle to pay back your loans for the rest of your natural life. When you’ve got to increase your trick-turning output by 12% to cover the increased cost of your 3L year, remember you’re doing it to maintain the second tier status of your legal alma mater.

We weren’t able to correspond with any incoming University of Houston 1Ls. Based on the above information, I can only assume that incoming UH 1Ls are illiterate. The entire law school tuition plan at Houston is predicated on incoming students being too stupid to act in their own economic self-interest, and it’s working.

In the movie Jurassic Park, the lawyer says to park creator John Hammond: “We can charge whatever we want, and people will pay.” That’s about where we’re at with law schools. Not just because they’re giant institutions that didn’t evolve and now roam around eating people. It’s that law schools have figured out that they can charge whatever they want and still new students will pay. The price of the education has become completely detached from the value of the education.

It’s not just happening at Houston. The Governor of Maryland is also banking on law students being too stupid to get out of a bad situation. He’s trying uphold a campaign promise by bilking the law students just a little bit more. A tipster reports:

[O]ur current Governor [Martin O’Malley] campaigned on a promise to freeze undergraduate tuition, which he did for 3 years, but much of the burden was shouldered by professional degree students.

And next year it’s going to get worse for graduate students in the Maryland system. The President of the Maryland University Student Government Association (USGA) reported on the organization’s failed efforts to fight the increase:

As many of you may be aware, on last Friday the Maryland Board of Regents approved a sweeping measure to increase tuition and student fees across the University of Maryland system. USGA wanted to give an update of our efforts, and to let you know how this will impact you.

For the past three years, undergraduate tuition has been frozen while UMB’s tuition has increased steadily across all of our schools. In effect, the state relied on graduate and professional students to pay more in tuition to subsidize the undergraduate system.

… [T]he Regents have done nothing to offset the enormous tuition increases for graduate and professional schools on campus. While, undergraduate is increasing by an average of 3% in other system schools, graduate and professional tuition is going up by an average of more than 6%. Some students fared even worse, with the School of Dentistry facing a tuition increase of around 7%. On top of that, UMB’s students were hit with a $563 fee to offset the costs of the new Campus Center…

While we did manage to force some discussion about these issues, our words largely fell upon deaf ears. Despite our concerns about the thousands of dollars of increased debt, most of the budgetary debate surrounded a technology fee for College Park, which amounted to an increase of less than $120 per student. Our impression was that our concerns are not as important as the undergraduate schools. However, the fact that there was discussion was a step in the right direction..

We know that people don’t like lawyers, but when did law students become the red-headed step-children of the university system? Are prospective law students really so desperate that they will pay anything in order to not be able to get a job in three years?

Other schools are doing more conventional tuition increases — or are at least pushing through increases that aren’t so obviously taking advantage of law students to subsidize others. While far from comprehensive, we’ve received tuition hike stories from schools as small as Lewis & Clark Law School (9.75% hike) to the entire U.C. system (numbers vary, sadness does not).

But what is a current student to do? They already owe these institutions so much money; the only way they’ll even have a shot of paying it off is if they stick through it and become one of the lucky ones that end up on the right side of the bi-modal legal salary distribution curve.

When faced with a similar situation of being totally f****d, MacBeth said: “I am in blood stepp’d so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go’er”

Later, MacBeth is killed.

UH regents approve tuition hike [Houston Chronicle]

Earlier: Open Thread: It’s Time For Another Round of Tuition Hikes

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