I think we’ve all been waiting for this. Last Wednesday, we picked up a report from the Stanford Daily announcing that students at Stanford Law School would be looking at a 5.75% tuition hike for the 2011 – 2012 academic year. That’s significantly larger than the 3.5% tuition hike for the rest of the university.

Given that most Stanford Law students found out the school was jacking up tuition from the Stanford Daily or Above the Law, I’m not surprised to see a school-wide apology from Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer. And given the fact that the best reason thus far given for Stanford’s tuition hike reduces to “because we can,” I’m also not surprised to see Dean Kramer working hard to spin the story differently.

Do you find him convincing? Read his email and tell us what you think…

First, here’s the apology part, where Dean Kramer explains why Stanford Law students were the last to know that their tuition was getting hiked more than any other school in the entire Stanford University system:

Dear All:

I am sure most, if not all, of you have heard about or read the announcement of our tuition hike next year. I think it’s important — particularly given the way the news came out — to explain. At the outset, let me say that I’m sorry you heard about this from the Stanford Daily and the Stanford Report. I had intended to tell you first and didn’t realize that the Board of Trustees meeting (to approve tuition) was this week, while I was away. I am also sorry for the way the tuition increase was reported, which can be (and has been) read to suggest something other than what happened.

In the future, Stanford should probably have some kind of official media plan for explaining why the law school has been singled out for a special screwing.

Not that I want to “suggest something other than what happened.” Here’s the real story, according to Dean Kramer:

What happened was this: We kept our tuition raises lower than our peers for a number of years prior to the economic collapse in 2008. That was a deliberate choice and an effort to help students who came to SLS. When the economy collapsed, we, like every other school, faced a budget crisis. Our endowment, which supports 55% of the budget, decreased by approximately 25%; other sources of income similarly dropped. To address that responsibly, we implemented a series of significant budget cuts, nearly 12.5% of the budget as a whole. In so doing, we carefully protected programs of or providing direct service to students — including financial aid, public service and public interest programming, student activities, etc. We actually increased the size of our Office of Career Services, in recognition that students would need more and better support in the newly difficult job market. But even after all this, we still had a gap. While debating further solutions, we noted that Stanford’s tuition was substantially lower than that of all our peer law schools, a difference that ranged from 3-14%. Hence, rather than impose further cuts, we decided to close a portion of the remaining budget gap by raising tuition by $1,000 over the University’s basic increase for two years. I announced this last year, when we added the first of the two increases. This year is the second, and last, such extra bump.

Even with this rise, tuition at SLS should still be the lowest or, at worst, roughly tied for the lowest among top law schools (several have yet to announce next year’s tuition). At the same time, in comparison with peer schools, it remains the case that SLS students receive generous financial aid and larger loan forgiveness payments and graduate law school with the lowest average debt. Obviously we would have preferred not to raise tuition. But given the cost structure, we made the decision to preserve services at the school rather than cut them more.

Please feel free to email me directly or to stop by if you have questions.

Best,

Larry

Stanford decided it had to raise tuition (during a challenging legal market) instead of cutting career services (during a challenging legal market). Is that a compelling argument to you, or does it scream “FALSE CHOICE” right off the page?

“I was pretty upset at the fact that the president of the board or something had said, ‘we are raising the law school tuition because we can’ (or something similar),” one Stanford law student told ATL. “If SLS acts like a for-profit corporation and thinks they should charge as much as the market can bear, they shouldn’t ask for donations from us once we graduate.”

You at least have to wonder if there was something else Stanford Law could have cut instead of essential student services.

You also have to wonder why the Stanford Law School needed a 5.75% tuition hike to cover budget gaps while the Stanford School of Medicine, and every other university program, could make do with a 3.5% increase. Dean Kramer doesn’t really explain why the law school was over budget beyond what the rest of the university was facing.

Would you leave paradise to save a few bucks?

Then again, maybe Dean Kramer is expecting young, would-be lawyers to not ask too many questions. Pay your money and be happy you’re at Stanford. That’s not entirely bad logic. And we can be pretty sure that there won’t be a single law student who looks to transfer out of Stanford just because of the extra tuition dollars.

It seems that really all that has happened here is that Stanford University figured they could screw the lawyers and get away with it. You can’t really blame them for being right.

Earlier: Tuition at Stanford Law Goes Up Dramatically Because….


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