Law School Deans, Law Schools, Student Loans

Law Students Plan Preemptive Strike Against Their School’s ‘Regular’ Tuition Increase


Hon. David F. Levi
Duke University School of Law
Durham, NC

Dean Levi:

Before tuition is announced for the 2013-2014 school year, the administration and faculty have an occasion to reflect on the extremely high levels that tuition has reached at Duke Law School – surpassing $50,000 this past year.[1] Tuition is so high that it has made law school a risky investment for the vast majority of students. Further, the burden of non-dischargeable debt has placed many graduates in dire financial straits. Although tuition increases are driven in large part by U.S. News and World Report’s criteria for ranking law schools, the situation remains unacceptable for a prestigious law school which purports to provide unparalleled career opportunities to its graduates. Duke should take the opportunity to lead its peer schools in addressing the problem of high tuition, and to attract outstanding students in the process by demonstrating its commitment to student wellbeing.

Tuition at Duke Law – $50,750, plus $885 in additional fees for the 2012-2013 school year – has increased dramatically over time.[2] Since you became dean in 2007, tuition has increased 27 percent, from $39,960,[3] far above the inflation rate of 11 percent during the same time period.[4] Skyrocketing tuition did not begin with you, however, but has been a problem for decades. Since 1980, Duke’s tuition has almost quadrupled in real dollars.[5]

Yet the full cost of Duke Law School far exceeds tuition alone. When fees, mandatory health insurance, books and living expenses are included, the cost for one year of law school is $72,621 for the 2012-2013 academic year, according to Duke’s website.[6] At this level of tuition and living expenses, the total cost for three years is $217,863. This assessment is overly optimistic, however, because it does not include the interest on the loans (often as high as 8.5 percent for PLUS loans[7]) that 86 percent of Duke’s 2011 class took out to finance their education.[8] The non-profit organization Law School Transparency estimates that the full, debt-financed cost for three years of law school at Duke is actually $252,727.[9] Even with Duke’s generous scholarship program, the average amount borrowed by the 2011 class was $128,057, which, due to accrued interest, climbed to $145,000 by the repayment period starting in November 2011.[10] Moreover, these costs do not take into account the opportunity cost that students incur by not working for three years – a likely hefty toll given Duke’s ambitious and successful student body.

Meanwhile, the 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.

Because you, Dean Levi, and Duke Law’s faculty care about students’ future careers, as well as Duke’s standing among alumni and within the legal community, it is respectfully suggested that you address the dire financial situation facing far too many Duke Law graduates.

First, Duke Law School should take immediate measures to reduce tuition without sacrificing academic quality. At a minimum, entering students should be guaranteed that their tuition will not increase beyond inflation during their three years in law school, but many other measures can be taken as well. Considering that while you were in law school, elite schools were able to provide quality legal instruction while charging only one-third of current tuition rates or less, achievement of this demand is clearly possible.

Second, Duke should publish the following information on its website for prospective and current students, and donating alumni: 1) Duke’s full NALP report with employment and salary outcomes for all graduates; 2) the percentage of students taking out loans and the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile amount of debt taken out to finance a legal education at Duke, including interest accrued during school. These numbers would provide greater transparency and allow prospective students to more effectively evaluate their decision to attend law school.

Third, Duke should provide an independent audit of expenses to current students, who bear the brunt of tuition increases. This audit should include, at a minimum, the number of professors and staff on payroll; the overall budget allotment for professor compensation, including salaries, health care packages, vacation, child tuition remission, and summer research stipends; expenditures on speakers, symposia and school events; costs of amenities and facility upgrades; and other significant expenditures. Given Duke Law’s status as a non-profit institution funded largely by taxpayer-guaranteed federal loans, the law school should have no problem sharing this information with the students who are funding the school’s operations. This audit will allow students to engage in informed, democratic discussion with faculty and staff about the law school’s priorities and financial future.

In closing, the Duke Law Community Standard states that Duke “is a community of scholars and learners, committed to the principles of honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, and respect for others. Students share with faculty and staff the responsibility for promoting a climate of integrity. As citizens of this community, [we all] are expected to adhere to these fundamental values at all times, in both [our] academic and non-academic endeavors.” By granting these modest requests, you can demonstrate the law school’s commitment to honor its standards of integrity. As a prestigious school, Duke can take this opportunity to be a leader in transparency and accountability, and to serve as a role model for peer schools.

[1] Tuition information is available on the Duke Law website,
[2] The calculation of fees for one year includes the health fee ($600), law student activity fee ($110), graduation student activity fee ($34), recreation fee ($128), and one-third of the one-time-only transcript fee ($13).
[3] See
[4] See (cumulative inflation calculator from September 2007 to September 2012).
[5] See Duke Law Quintennial Report (1983). In the 1979-1980 school year, tuition was $4,230, or $13,413.70 in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. See for an inflation calculator.
[6] See
[7] For more information about student loans and interest rates, see
[8] Information about the debt incurred by Duke Law students is available through US News and World Report.
[9] See
[10] See US News and World Report. For comparison, the class of 2008 took out $112,115 in law school loans, which means that the amount of law school loans taken out climbed 14.2 percent over three years.
[11] See Law School Transparency’s analysis of Duke’s employment data at
[12] See Duke’s salary profile, analyzed on Law School Transparency, at 58.9 percent refers to the percentage of graduates in private practice. However, only 44.9 percent of the 2011 class obtained jobs with large firms with 101 or more attorneys. See
[13] With a $145,000 loan balance and an interest rate of 6.8 percent, payments would be $1,668.66 per month under a ten year repayment plan. The total cost of law school would amount to $200,240.02, including $55,240.02 in interest payments. See (with $145,000 as the loan balance and 6.8 percent as the interest rate on a ten year repayment plan).
[15] See (11.6 percent is the sum of the public interest and government categories).

Duke Law Tuition Petition [Blogspot]

Earlier: Time To Pay More For The Same Education: It’s Tuition Hike Season
Could the Decline in Law School Applicants Mean Tuition Cuts Are On the Way?
University of Miami 2Ls Will Get ‘Waiver’ To Offset Tuition Hikes

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