Tuesday, April 24, 2012
- LSAC Jacks Up Fees 15-31% to Students in Light of Decline in LSAT Test Takers
- What Is Going on at the LSAC?
The LSAC has issued this response:
Recently, bloggers have posted confusing and out-of-context information about the LSAC. Much of it is exaggerated, and some is flatly wrong. I am writing to make sure you have better information about the organization when you form your views.
- It is true that fees for the LSAT are scheduled to go up by about 15% next year and the total cost of the test and admissions reports for an applicant who applies to six schools will be about $450. Considered against the total cost of a legal education, this is a very modest sum – about 0.3% of total law school costs. This percentage has been going down over the past decade and, at the same time, the LSAC has expanded its efforts to enable low-income students to avoid the costs entirely (see below). Compared to other professional graduate tests, the cost of the LSAT is quite low – 66% of the cost of the tests for students planning to attend business or medical school.
- It is also true that the LSAC has a large reserve. Years ago, the Board tried to estimate the number of students who would take the test each year and adjust its price accordingly – lower if we expected lots of students and higher if we expected fewer students. This resulted in large year-to-year swings in our prices (and it turned out to be very difficult to predict how many students would take the test each year). Then, about 20 years ago, we decided to implement a policy of steadier increases which would permit us to build up a reserve when lots of students happened to be applying to law school and to call on that reserve when the numbers went down. (We are an organization with large fixed costs; for example, the cost to produce the test is about the same whether 1,000 or 100,000 students take the test.) Then, for several years (especially in later years up to 2009-2010), many students took the test and we ran surpluses. Now fewer students are taking the test. Next year, we project a deficit in our annual operating budget of about $7.5 million and it looks like we’ll see deficits for several years to come. So we’re now calling on the reserve we’ve prudently built up during the flush years instead of hitting students with huge price spikes.
- The operating budget deficit is the product of the many things the LSAC does for law students and law schools. More than half of the deficit last year – $3.4 million of it – was caused by the LSAC’s fee waiver program. To do its part to help law schools become more diversified socioeconomically, the LSAC waived its test and application-processing fees for over 9,000 low-income students last year. When the recession hit, the LSAC also increased its direct subsidies to schools to help them weather the storm; for example, the LSAC began to pay more of the costs for admissions staff to attend candidate forums and the annual professional meeting. Finally, the LSAC provides generous support for a variety of diversity initiatives. For example, it probably provides more support than anyone in legal education for diversity pipeline efforts.
- Some bloggers complain that the compensation for certain LSAC employees is too high. Our employees are well-compensated, but they are not excessively compensated, especially in view of the difficulty and technical complexity of their work. The LSAC Board scrutinizes salaries very closely and regularly commissions professional salary surveys to assess the fairness of our compensation structure. What we pay is fair in the market – not too much or too little.
- Some bloggers claim that the LSAC spends $1 million per year on lobbying expenses. That is just plain wrong. Over the last three years (which were typical), the LSAC’s lobbying expenses have been less than $25,000 per year.
- There are those who think the LSAC should confirm each school’s reported LSAT and UGPA scores, and who claim it would be easy to do. The LSAC is in discussions with the ABA to see if it can do this. But it is very wrong to think it will be an easy task. It turns out that the LSAC is missing a crucial piece of information to do this – it doesn’t know which students go to which schools until well after the reporting period and, even then, the LSAC knows only what the schools report. It also turns out that an unknown number of schools – those with variances from ABA Standard 503 – have an unknown number of students who are completely off the LSAC’s radar screen. And many students can legitimately be counted as attending more than one school under current ABA standards. Yes, the LSAC should try to help make this reporting more reliable; the LSAC has already said it will do that if it can solve these problems and do the task well. We’re working on it, but it is a very complicated task.
The LSAC is successful because it provides great value to law students and law schools. Think about what would happen without the LSAC. A student who applies to six law schools would have to pay for six original transcripts and arrange to have them sent to six different places, each of his two or three reference letters would also have to be sent separately to each school, and he might have to take different admissions tests, each of which would involve fees and which wouldn’t be nearly as good as the LSAT at predicting law school success. From the law school side, each school would have to receive, open and organize all these transcripts and reference letters, they’d have to develop software to distribute it within their schools or do it manually, they wouldn’t have information about the grading practices of undergraduate schools, they’d either have no standardized test or a less reliable and valid one, etc., etc. The LSAC does well because it provides great value and great efficiency to both law students and law schools.
The LSAC is by no means perfect. It relies on the hard work and insights of its outstanding staff and of hundreds of volunteers from its member schools who all do their very best to make the LSAC a valuable and responsive organization. It’s a tough environment right now for law schools and affiliated organizations like the LSAC, AALS, and ABA. There is great value in constructive criticism and new ideas, and we welcome them from any and all sources. On the other hand, poorly considered and uninformed complaints are not helpful to the LSAC, law students, or law schools.
Chair, LSAC Board of Directors
Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.) responds here.