It’s a little bit early for tuition hike season, but in a few weeks, we’ll start getting stories about law schools raising tuition on students just because they can. We say it every year, and we’ll say it again this year, but it appears that law school tuition is one of the only things that is recession-proof.

Law salaries remain flat. Law applications are even down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tuition will follow. Here’s how committed law schools are to raising tuition: they’ll raise tuition and then give high-achieving students scholarships to offset the increase. It’s as if low-achieving law students are subsidizing tuition for high-achieving law students at schools across the country.

Law schools are willing to do whatever it takes to keep making the tuition number go up. At Miami, they raised tuition and then (after we asked about it) gave 2Ls a “waiver” from the hike.

It goes up at Duke. Last year, tuition went up at Duke Law School by 4 percent. Why? Why was the money needed during a time of extreme challenge in the legal job market? Who knows? It’s not like Duke is required to explain itself to students.

But this year, some Duke Law students are trying to make the administration understand that the “standard” tuition hike doesn’t make any sense for the students at the school….

Honestly, I think that at this point law schools would make “revenue neutral” tuition increases if they had to. They’d raise tuition and then refund everybody just to artificially keep law schools looking expensive in the hopes that five years from now (and five tuition hikes from now) they can get back to making most people pay full freight.

The shell game hasn’t been lost on some Duke students who want to take action. There is a petition circulating around the law school about the “impending” tuition hikes: Impending not because Duke Law has said “we’re going to raise tuition,” but because law schools almost always raise tuition while disregarding the people it affects the most.

The Duke Law Tuition Petition, addressed to law school dean David F. Levi, articulately lays out the case against tuition increases:

[T]he employment situation for Duke Law graduates is rapidly deteriorating. Only 82.1 percent of the class of 2011 was able to obtain full time, long term jobs requiring bar passage[11] – a low number considering the high debt levels of graduates. More alarmingly, salaries have failed to keep pace with rapid tuition growth. Only 58.9 percent of 2011 graduates landed jobs in private firms, and of that group only half made $160,000 as first year associates.[12] This means that less than 30 percent of Duke’s 2011 class earned even close to enough money to sustain monthly payments of approximately $1,600 that the average student borrower faces under a standard ten year payment plan.[13] In fact, FinAid estimates that a salary of $200,239.20 is necessary to comfortably pay off this level of debt, a salary unobtainable for the vast majority of Duke Law graduates.[14] Moreover, only 11.6 percent of the class obtained public interest or government jobs that might qualify them for Duke’s loan forgiveness program.[15] The stark reality is that many Duke Law graduates are saddled with non-dischargeable student loan debt that is simply impossible to pay on the average lawyer salary – if they are fortunate enough to obtain paying legal work.

You can read the full petition on the next page.

Again, there is no reason based on the economic outcome of recent Duke Law graduates for tuition to go up. The value of a law degree is not going up, it’s impossible to justify why the cost of the degree should go up.

Of course, Duke Law doesn’t have to “justify” it to anybody. They can just raise it. Current students are already “pot committed” and will have to pay it to finish their training; new students will borrow more money and get a bigger scholarship. Rich students, or their parents, will pay. It’s a private school, so they can do what they want.

Duke Law doesn’t have to be fair to its own students. Look at how the school reacts to this petition; you’ll see how just how much student concerns actually matter to the administration.


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