The Tuition is Too Damn High

In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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The median LSAT score for students at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is 145. This means that Cooley is already trawling in the waters of the bottom 25 percent of LSAT takers. So when Cooley Law Dean Don LeDuc says that the school might consider lowering its admissions standards to cover the drop in law school applications, it’s fair to ask what’s lower than the bottom of the barrel.

Are they going to start admitting people who took the LSAT in crayon? Are they going to start admitting people who can’t read? If the median score is 145 and you’re going to bring that number down, what (if any) “standards” does your school still purport to have?

Cooley would rather lower its standards than lower its tuition. In fact, LeDuc says that tuition is going the other way: Cooley announced that it will raise first-year tuition by 9 percent and tuition on everybody else by 8 percent. It’s almost as if Cooley has taken upon itself the responsibility of punishing people too ignorant to research legal education….

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I imagine that students of the Charleston School of Law woke up this morning feeling a bit like exotic dancers who just found out that their strip joint was being sold to a whorehouse.

Charleston School of Law (CSOL) was already a pretty weak law school, charging $38,000 a year despite being unranked by U.S. News. Its employment stats and bar passage rates are often embarrassing. It’s “accredited” by the ABA because, well, the ABA will rubber-stamp institutions like this.

But yesterday the school announced that it was entering a “management services agreement” with a for-profit company, Infilaw Inc. Infilaw has not covered itself in glory. It owns Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, and Phoenix School of Law. So to call Infilaw a “diploma mill” is being exceedingly kind to Infilaw.

It’s a bad situation. The news is “rocking the Charleston legal scene,” as one tipster told us, and many students and professors are upset. But the story of one student who was set to matriculate at CSOL this fall sort of illustrates how the kinds of students who go to CSOL are resistant to the market information, thus making a company like Infilaw possible…

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