The high demand for legal education is somewhat surprising given its hefty price tag. The average tuition and fees at private, nonprofit law schools in 2010 was $34,656 per year. At public universities, in-state students paid $19,912 yearly on average in tuition and fees, and out-of-state students paid $32,247 per year. And unlike enrollments or degree completions, law school tuition is on a steady upward path. (see Figure 3)
It’s difficult to locate the cause of this steep rise in tuition. Though some have claimed that stringent accreditation requirements drive price, a 2009 GAO study showed that this assumption is incorrect. That report identified a few drivers of tuition based on interviews with law school officials, including a more hands-on approach to legal education that includes pricey clinical experiences and smaller class sizes.
Other changes to the legal education model may also drive tuition, including greater diversity of course offerings and increased academic support and career services for students, as well as higher faculty salaries, competition for higher rankings, and state disinvestment at public law schools. And of course, many of these changes are driven by increased competition among law schools, which in itself can be considered a driver of tuition.
Some other findings:
Law students have more debt on average than almost all other graduate students, excepting only medical students. And more law students borrow to pay for their education than all other graduate students. . . .
It’s difficult to get a complete picture of defaults at law schools, as the Department of Education collects and publishes default rates for institutions as a whole rather than by division or professional school. But since some law schools operate as standalone institutions, we can get some idea of how law grads fare. Of these standalone institutions, the average default rate is only 2.6 percent.