Another school has surveyed the landscape of legal education over the next several years and recognized that, to paraphrase Jimmy McMillan, the tuition was too damn high. Reduce the sticker shock and get a leg up on peer institutions. And most importantly game the ATL Rankings in the process.
This is not the first school to take steps to cut back on tuition, but a school making this kind of significant cut sends a signal to its peers that the game has changed and the new blueprint is, well I don’t want to say “value” because you’re still sending students into an uncertain job market, but at least “bargain hunting.”
So who joins the ranks of tuition-slashing institutions?
The University of Arizona Law School announced the 30 percent cut over the weekend. In fairness, this cut applies only to out-of-state students — but this is the second straight year of cuts, and resident tuition was already cut 11 percent for the current school year (along with an 8 percent cut for out-of-state tuition). So residents were already paying tuition around the middle of the state institution pack.
Nonresidents who paid more than $42,000 last school year to study law at the UA will soon pay $29,000 a year, a drop of more than 30 percent. The rate for an in-state law student will stay about the same, around $24,400.
The change leaves the UA’s law school with the cheapest nonresident tuition rate of its 15 peer schools around the country. Each charges $10,000-$30,000 a year more.
The UA’s new rate also is about 30 percent cheaper than what its sister institution, Arizona State University in Tempe, charges nonresident law students. ASU will charge about $41,700 this fall, nearly $13,000 more than the UA.
Way to give the finger to your in-state rival. Not to get all cynical about Arizona’s concern about student debt, but this is a savvy move for an institution seeking a bigger slice of the regional market. In a state that still boasts one of the fastest growing cities in the country — a “destination move” for many kids throughout the Southwest — undercutting your only in-state rival (are we not counting Arizona Summit? We aren’t? Awesome) by 30 percent is invaluable. It might even be worth choosing to live in Tucson rather than Tempe.
Even better, the cuts are described as moving Arizona’s tuition closer to the “true cost of attendance,” a signal that the shell game of using merit scholarships to rook lower-performing students into subsidizing higher-performing students is not at play (or at least much reduced) in Arizona’s new model.
To keep cash flow into the law school, Arizona is setting up an undergraduate program to service those who want jobs in the legal field, but may not actually need a J.D. This is one of the most important moves in legal education because the number of these quasi-legal openings continues to expand and there’s no reason to keep funneling students through the debt grinder of law school to hold a “contract administrator” gig. Hopefully the program can also weed out some students not built for law for a fraction of the cost:
Besides cutting tuition for would-be lawyers, UA is setting up a number of new law-based programs for students who don’t intend to practice law.
A new bachelor of arts in law major, for example, is aimed at those who could benefit from legal training but don’t need a juris doctor degree, such as those in health care, human resources, contract management and other fields.
Income from new programs will help support the law school’s core offerings, allowing the UA to retain experienced law faculty and staff, [Dean Marc] Miller said. So far, the work force has been largely unaffected, he said.
With any luck some of Arizona’s peer institutions will follow suit. In the meantime I’m looking forward to comparing the out-of-state enrollment figures for Arizona and ASU next year.
UA law school to undercut peers with deep tuition discounts [Arizona Daily Star]
How Deans Should Game the Above the Law Rankings [Law.com]