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Private Funding of Public Law Schools = Bad News For Future Law Students

Do you know an easy way for moderately priced public law schools to make even more money? Charge more for tuition. Do you know an easy justification for jacking up tuition rates? Say that you are moving to a “private funding model” while you bemoan the lack of public support for your institution.

After that, it’s all profit baby!

The big news in the law school hot stove league is that another major public law school is toying with moving to a private funding model. The logic for eschewing public funds for an increase in private dollars is, as always, disingenuous. But hey, as long as the law school keeps paying its tithe to the university, few will object to increased gouging of prospective law students…

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that both the University of Minnesota Law School and the Carson School of Management are considering the private funding model:

Deans of the Law School and the Carlson School of Management say they have not sought this change and that their schools would remain as committed to the public as they are now.

“We will be, in every respect, a public law school,” Law School Dean David Wippman said. “Our tuition plan has to be approved by the regents. We are not opting out of our financial obligations to the university. Nothing really changes — except where your revenue comes from.”

Well, the other thing that’s going to change is how much revenue you are pulling in, right Dean Wippman? In any event, I trust you all caught the “financial obligations to the university” line. Dean Wippman isn’t a fool. He knows that as long as the law school continues to be a cash cow to the university system, nobody will much care how Minnesota Law generates the revenue or who risks financial ruin in their efforts to get a legal education.

In terms of the “where” part of the equation, obviously in-state Minnesota residents are being set up to pay the price:

In 2006-07, state money constituted about 17.6 percent of Carlson’s operating budget. This year, under a budget approved in June, it will account for just 3.6 percent. The Law School’s share will drop from 22 percent as recently as 2008-09 to single digits.

For the coming year, first-year resident tuition for law students is $32,928 — about 20 percent less than the nonresident rate of $41,496. But the school plans to shrink that discount to 10 percent in coming years, documents show.

“We want to maintain the advantage for Minnesota residents,” Wippman said. “But given the decline in state support, we thought it should not be as large as it was.”

Really, this plan would just be the logical extension of what Minnesota Law has already been doing to its students. Tuition for in-state residents has gone up, sharply, over the past two years — despite the general awfulness of the legal economy.

Based on the Star-Tribune article, it seems that Minnesota wants to be compared to UVA Law, an elite “public” institution that is funded through tuition and alumni giving and doesn’t need any state funding. One way to have the national profile of a school like UVA is to hire and retain the best and most expensive faculty.

Which brings us to the real reason Minnesota wants to jack tuition on in-state residents. Is Minnesota Law being adversely affected by state budget cuts? Absolutely. It’s very similar to the situation we’ve seen at schools like Arizona State. But Minnesota Law doesn’t want to cut its budget significantly in one place that would make a big difference: faculty salaries.

Remember, in October Minnesota made a big deal about cutting faculty salaries by 1%. One, single lousy percent — at a time when tuition was going up 13.5% over a two-year period. If that doesn’t tell you what Minnesota administrators are really concerned about, I don’t know what does.

Clearly, the school cannot maintain the high faculty salaries on a state budget. But as opposed to bringing their expenses in line with what the state can afford during a recovering economy, Minnesota is thinking, “Screw it, we’ll just jack the prices on students.”

And maybe, maybe that’s okay if the students are graduating from Minnesota Law with the kind of high-salaried employment options people have when they leave UVA Law. But if Minnesota’s whole plan is to simply charge Minnesota residents more for the same kind of Minnesotan and Upper Midwest employment options available to current graduates, then it seems like Minnesota residents are just getting punked.

If Dean Wippman thinks that represents the same level of commitment to the Minnesotan community from the “public” law school, that would be a sad statement about Minnesota Law’s relationship with the people of Minnesota.

Two U of M schools consider switching to private-funding only [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
Public Schools Ditching State Money for Private Funds [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: 13% Tuition Increase + 1% Faculty Salary Cut = 100% Screwing of Minnesota Law Students

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