For the past few years, law schools have been in a state of crisis, and it’s getting worse. Prospective students just aren’t as interested as they used to be in borrowing up to six figures of government Monopoly money in the hope of surviving the post-graduation gauntlet of legal employment. At last count, applicants were down 11.1 percent from this time last year, and national 1L enrollment is down 24 percent from where it was in 2010.
Unable to keep up with the changing times and put asses in seats, law schools are doing anything they can to cut costs — up to and including laying off faculty and staff. Amid hefty declines in enrollment, some schools seem to be struggling.
But which law schools have suffered most? Even though law is a profession obsessed with rankings, this is one list your school probably doesn’t want to be on…
Before we get to the rankings, we’ll preface them by saying that yes, many law schools have made efforts to shrink their class sizes. By way of example, both Touro Law Center and Albany Law School once pledged to decrease their class sizes by a whopping 10 students. (Look where it got them: Albany is forcing professors out the door, and we’ve heard rumors of impending faculty and staff layoffs at Touro.)
All joking aside, the schools that have purposefully reduced their class sizes — by more than two handfuls of students — are doing a very good thing. But when a law school’s decline in student enrollment is greater than 30 percent, we’ve got to wonder what portion of that percentage was planned.
In a recent study, National Jurist compared data from the 2010-2011 school year to data from the 2013-2014 school year using numbers from law schools’ most recent American Bar Association 509 reports. Without further ado, here are the 10 law schools with the biggest drops in enrollment since 2010:
- University of La Verne: -66.2 percent
- Cooley Law School: -40.6 percent
- Catholic University: -39.5 percent
- New York Law School: -38.7 percent
- University of Dayton: -38.5 percent
- Pacific McGeorge School of Law: -38.4 percent
- Widener University – Harrisburg: -36.9 percent
- University of New Hampshire: -34.8 percent
- Seton Hall University: -34.7 percent
- Liberty University: -33.9 percent
The full list is available here. (Full disclosure: my alma mater had a 33.3 percent decline in enrollment.)
National Jurist reports that Cooley Law had the “single largest drop in raw numbers” across all of its
eleventy billion five campuses. Cooley enrolled 3,931 students in 2010 and 2,334 students in 2013. Paul Zelenski, Associate Dean of Enrollment and Student Services at Cooley Law School, isn’t exactly fazed. After all, the school has its new alliance with Western Michigan University to fall back on:
Zelenski said law schools need to continue to employ intelligent and well-qualified professors and provide facilities that are attractive to students, while finding ways to reduce the cost of a legal education.
“I think law school enrollment will recover, probably not to the level it once was, but with the current trend of fewer people enrolling in law school now, coupled with an aging profession, there will be a need for attorneys, not even accounting for the hundreds of other things you can do with a law degree,” he said.
In case you missed it, the key words there were “reduce the cost of legal education.” We wondered how Cooley Law was doing on that front, and discovered that it currently costs $43,500 per year to attend this bastion of legal education. Gee, that’s only $9,160 more than what it cost to attend the school last year ($34,340), and $8,850 less than it costs to attend one of the other second-best law schools in the nation (Harvard, $52,350), so it seems like Cooley is doing a real bang-up job with this cost-control concept.
It goes without saying that these law schools are hurting to fill their seats, and be it due to exorbitant costs or a lack of job availability post-graduation, it’s likely for a reason. So go on, do those “hundreds of other things” with your law degree — but just know that practicing law might not be one of them. Good luck!
Cooley, NYLS have largest enrollment declines since 2010-2011 [National Jurist]