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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, March 18, 2016

2017 U.S News Law School Rankings:  Average Student Debt

2017 U.S. News LogoFollowing up on my posts (links below) on the 2017 U.S. News Law School Rankings:  Matt Leichter, Record 16 Law Schools Didn’t Report 2015 Graduate Debt to U.S. News:

[F]or some reason U.S. News didn’t rank law schools by debt, generously offering me an opportunity to do so in its stead. Each year U.S. News lists the amount of debt law schools’ recent graduates took out. Importantly, the figure excludes accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these figures are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school, presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here are the 25 law schools with the highest amount of average law school debt (among those students with law school debt).

1. Thomas Jefferson 172,445 172,726 0.2%
2. Columbia 154,076 168,627 9.4%
3. New York University 147,744 166,022 12.4%
4. San Francisco 154,321 162,434 5.3%
5. John Marshall (Chicago) 143,518 162,264 13.1%
6. California Western 151,197 162,260 7.3%
7. New York Law School 166,622 161,910 -2.8%
8. Florida Coastal 162,785 160,942 -1.1%
9. Georgetown 150,529 160,606 6.7%
10. American 159,316 160,274 0.6%
11. Vermont 156,713 156,710 0.0%
12. Miami 143,845 155,796 8.3%
13. Northwestern 163,065 155,796 -4.5%
14. Tulane 140,965 153,606 9.0%
15. Harvard 137,599 149,754 8.8%
16. Pacific, McGeorge 140,517 149,470 6.4%
17. Fordham 140,577 149,058 6.0%
18. Pepperdine 145,525 148,959 2.4%
19. Widener (Commonwealth)   148,496  
20. Whittier 151,602 148,316 -2.2%
21. Loyola (CA) 147,701 148,035 0.2%
22. Virginia 132,182 146,907 11.1%
23. Charleston 147,031 146,230 -0.5%
24. California-Berkeley 143,546 144,981 1.0%
25. Pennsylvania 130,002 144,153 10.9%

Sixteen law schools did not supply U.S. News with debt data on their graduates:  Appalachian, Arizona Summit, Charlotte, Concordia, Faulkner, Florida A&M, Indiana Tech, John Marshall (GA), La Verne, New England, St. Thomas (FL), Southwestern, Texas Southern, Touro, Western Michigan Cooley, Western New England.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


A little bit of a non-sequitur, but alumni from schools like American and Brooklyn must be pissed. Those used to be good schools that recruited smart kids. A typical 2006 student might be someone with a 3.4 from Cornell and a 164 on the LSAT (no quite enough for GW, BU back then). Places like American and Brooklyn were still competitive schools with decent reputations. Now they are basically open admissions schools that have no standards or respect for themselves. This reflects very poorly on alumni. Of course they have only gone up in price.

Posted by: JM | Mar 18, 2016 6:26:04 AM

That Columbia debt figure is *interesting,* as their Form 509 reveals that only ~40% of students receive any discounting, the tuition alone is $60k/year, and cost of living brings it up to nearly $90k/year.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 18, 2016 7:20:56 AM

Of those highest debt schools, it appears that all but a couple are located in extremely high cost of living areas (NYC, San Fran, San Diego, and generally large coastal metro areas). This surely affects the debt figures in two ways, one direct, the other indirect: (1) the higher cost of living means faculty and staff are paid more in absolute dollars than counterparts in flyover country, meaning tuition is higher to pay higher labor costs; (2) the students' own debt loads are higher because they take out correspondingly larger loans needed to live in such high cost of living places.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 18, 2016 7:54:30 AM

Is this an average for the entire graduating class, or for the group of students graduating with debt?

Posted by: JohnZ | Mar 18, 2016 8:46:56 AM

It is a little hard to know what this means.
For example, Pepperdine students with debt average $149,000, but that is only 74% of the class. Loyola Marymount students average $148,000, but that is 80% of the class. Does it mean that Pepperdine gives bigger scholarships? That 6% more of Pepperdine's students have wealthy parents than Loyola's students?

Posted by: Bert Lazerow | Mar 18, 2016 2:26:43 PM

Is this law school debt alone or does it include UG?

Posted by: anon | Mar 18, 2016 2:45:28 PM

Honestly folks, does it really matter? I have made peace with my student loan debt a long time ago. It's not about paying it off. It's about managing it. I will take my 200K debt to my grave. I have never once been denied a mortgage, HELOC, low rate credit card or 0.9% percent auto loan. Car dealers "laugh" when they see student loan debt.
They tell me everyone has it and they consider it all "bullshit." As long as it's not in default.

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Mar 18, 2016 6:55:01 PM


These figures are exclusive of undergrad debt. Off the top of my head, I believe the median undergrad debt is around $15k and the average undergrad debt is around $30k. So factor in that as you will, plus three years' interest on those loans while in law school. For that matter, these figures are also exclusive of interest on the law school loans themselves, no trivial matter now that no graduate loans are subsidized anymore.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 18, 2016 10:42:36 PM

This is a List of Shame.

And the 16 schools that did not report their debt data, are a List of Greatest Shame.

Maybe law school aplications should have an essay question stating the average graduate's debt and asking prospective student-debtors how they plan to pay it off.

Posted by: Old Ruster from JD Junkyard | Mar 21, 2016 5:24:04 PM