Law School Deans, Law Schools, Student Loans

Haters Gonna Hate On Tuition-Cutting Law School

Back from the big NALP conference, back from Seattle, happy to be back in New York City. The five boroughs came up a lot at the conference thanks to the big move by Brooklyn Law School to cut tuition by 15% next year.

If I may summarize the reactions from other schools about Brooklyn’s cut (I’m paraphrasing):

  • F**k those motherf**kers. It’s still super-expensive. Go STATE!
  • Actually my school did something very similar. [Elie explains why their school is not similar.] Well, that’s just your opinion, man.
  • Can somebody wake me up when Yale does it?

I expected that other schools would be a little annoyed with Brooklyn. Schools are already facing a financial crunch given the sharp drop in new law students; not many want to take on the additional financial burden of across the board rate reductions. I recently appeared on CNBC with Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard, and he explained that Brooklyn Law sold off some of its capital assets to afford this. I noted that not every school is in the position to do that.

But I didn’t expect some prospective Brooklyn Law students to also bitch about the reduction. I guess when you expect dumber people to subsidize your education, having that taken away from you is jarring…

Here’s the key feature you need to understand about what Brooklyn is doing in relation to the larger legal education market: Brooklyn is cutting tuition while also reducing the amount of money it spends on merit scholarships. Other schools are keeping tuition high while maintaining or increasing the money they spend on merit scholarships.

The way Brooklyn is doing things is better for students. When a school puts its money into “merit-based” financial aid, what’s really happening is that the lowest-performing students at the school, the ones least likely to have jobs when they graduate, are subsidizing the educations of the top performers in the entering class. And remember, schools aren’t engaging in this burden-shifting out of educational Darwinism; schools are trying to entice high-scoring students to go to their school and keep their U.S. News rank high. It’s a good deal for a few, high-scoring prospective students, but a raw deal for everybody else.

The second benefit to cutting tuition outright is that it retards the growth of tuition! Schools want to keep nominal tuition high even if the effective rate is much lower. That way, if the legal economy ever turns around, schools can go right back to jacking tuition up ever higher, as if the recession never happened. But at Brooklyn, it will take them a while to re-raise tuition by 15% and back to “2014 levels.” Actual cuts have a longer-term, cost-restraining effect than one-year scholarships.

For those playing along at home, yes, I’m actually complimenting Brooklyn Law School. I even did so on TV (kind of):

And yes, Allard called me “dapper.” Strange times, my friends.

Despite the love fest, students actually set to go to Brooklyn have some legitimate concerns. From a tipster:

Brooklyn Law has actually been a little misleading with regards to the tuition cut. A recent email to students indicated that the only students eligible for the tuition cut are those who don’t already receive ~$8K or more in scholarship/grants. Since the vast majority of of BLS students receive scholarships/grants amounting to more than that amount (if only barely more), the vast majority of students will not see any benefit to this “across the board” tuition cut. Their scholarships/grants will still be based off of the old $53K sticker, as opposed to the “new” $45K sticker. The only people who will see a real reduction in tuition are the small handful of students who were paying full price.

Brooklyn Law explains this in an email to affected students:

* If you do not receive scholarship/grant aid in 2015-16, you will directly benefit from the 15% reduction.

* If you enter in 2014-15 with scholarship/grant aid, and meet the School’s standards for retaining that aid in 2015-16, you will have the choice of keeping the same financial aid package or opting to take the 15% reduction—whichever reduces your tuition bill the most. But you will not pay more.

Again, I see how this regime is less beneficial to top Brooklyn Law students who were benefiting from the subsidization by their worse performing peers paying full price. But Brooklyn has more than “a handful” of students paying full price (we think; it’s not like Brooklyn is eager to release stats on what percentage of their classes pay what and where their funding comes from). Getting the price down for everybody is the important goal here, not just preserving free or discounted education for Brooklyn Law students who didn’t feel like paying full price at Fordham.

The bottom line is that one random law school making one tuition cut is not going to significantly change the market. Especially when that law school is still prohibitively expensive. But this is where law schools need to be going.

The tuition is too damn high. Eventually law schools who want students will have to stop charging people like it’s 2007.

Brooklyn Law School cuts tuition [CNBC]

Earlier: Which Law School Just Cut Tuition By 15 Percent?
Ouch: The Law Schools With The Biggest Drops In Enrollment Since 2010

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