Wednesday, May 14, 2014
David Barnhizer (Cleveland State), Law School Enrollments and Adaptive Strategies:
There is no “national” or “global” law school enrollment crisis but a serious enrollment decline being experienced by a large number of law schools that requires adaptive strategies. Those strategies are not general but need to be designed and applied within a realistic understanding of the specific competitive marketplaces within which individual law schools are operating. In some cases not all obstacles can be overcome or problems fixed within a relevant timeframe. It is likely that some law schools will be forced to close their doors. And it is difficult to argue against that outcome in a number of instances. As with any set of competitive industries there are winners and losers predicated on factors such as product quality, prestige, consumer demand for the products being sold, location, cost versus benefit anticipated from the expenditure, and convenience. These factors apply to the competitive conditions of US law schools. Simply put, there are two primary considerations in play as to the success or failure of US law schools. One is applicant perception of the law schools to which they choose to apply in terms of whether those law schools represent the a “product” they want to “buy” based on quality, cost and career benefits. The other is the employers’ perception of their benefit from hiring a producer law school’s “product” in the form of a law school graduate.
In saying that there is no national law school enrollment crisis I offer data on the 2012 and 2013 enrollments at 23 nationally ranked “elite” law schools said to be in the top thirty or so of US law schools. Rather than declining we see that overall those 23 law schools experienced an increase of 79 law students. Several of the “elite” law schools experienced a limited negative enrollment while a few had substantial positive gains but it is clear that these law schools are not in trouble. Law schools that are experiencing significant impacts in the form of declining enrollments are the ones facing substantial pressures. Part of the data presented here indicates that by far the largest part of the decline in enrollments are taking place in law schools in the lowest end of the US News & World Report rankings—those listed as “Ranking Not Published” or RNP.
While there are several aberrations where higher ranked schools have experienced significant declines there is no question that the “RNPs” and other low-ranked law schools are the “losers” in the competition for a declining total applicant base. The factors affecting their competitive conditions run a diverse range. These include lack of prestige, restriction to local employment markets, saturated employment markets, geographic location, tuition levels that are seen as significantly exceeding the benefits obtained from attending the institution, and competition from more highly ranked law schools. At the end of the presentation of information twenty-seven ideas are offered for approaches that could be further defined and applied to the needs and conditions of specific law schools. I deliberately avoided adding detail to the suggestions because I believe each represents a strategy or a tactic that needs to be individualized to fit the mission, conditions, possibilities, resources and agendas of specific institutions.