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Monday, July 30, 2012

WSJ: Law Schools Haggle Over Scholarship Money to Fill 1L Class

HaggleWall Street Journal:  More Law Schools Haggle on Scholarships:

Getting into law school is easier than it used to be. But while the steady, postrecession drop in applications has made life easier for prospective students, it has posed new challenges for law schools.

Some schools are having so much trouble filling their seats that they are negotiating scholarships, accepting some applications long after formal deadlines, and offering up other perks to entice the best prospective students.

"I'm calling this the 100-year flood for law schools," said William Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University and an expert in the business of law. "People are groping for models on how to deal with this but none really exist; we're in uncharted territory." ...

Giving case-by-case scholarships affords schools flexibility with students. But it also allows schools to keep official tuition levels high, said Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on the legal profession.High tuition levels are often viewed as a sign of prestige or quality by the industry, according to Mr. Tamanaha.

In the past 10 years, the amount of scholarship dollars awarded to law students has nearly tripled, according to the ABA. For the 2008-09 school year, schools gave out about $816 million in scholarships, a figure that swelled to over $1 billion for the 2011-12 year.

Bruce P. Smith, the dean of the University of Illinois College of Law, conceded that the school, "like many other law schools," had considered strategies to address the fact that the school's tuition is more than many desirable students are willing to pay.

But instead of dropping tuition in order to entice students, it decided to get aggressive with scholarships. Every member of Illinois's law-school class of 2014 received a scholarship, including those off the wait list. The grants cost the school $3.6 million, according to Mr. Smith.

Meanwhile, law-school tuition is on the rise, especially at public, state schools. Average in-state tuition for public law schools went up 9% from 2010 to 2011, to $22,116, according to the ABA. That figure represents around a 1,000% increase from the levels seen in 1985 when average tuition was $2,006.

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