Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 23, 2012

Law School Rankings by Debt Load Per Graduating Student

U.S. News LogoU.S. News & World Report, 10 Law Schools That Lead to the Most Debt:

Among 195 ranked law schools surveyed annually by U.S. News, 191 reported the average indebtedness of graduating students in 2011, the most recent figures available. Overall, law students graduated with an average of $100,584 in debt. ... Among the 10 law schools that lead to the most debt load per graduating student, the average debt burden was $147,717 in 2011.

Law School                 
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
John Marshall (IL) $38,100 $165,178 129
California Western $42,600 $153,145 RNP
Thomas Jefferson $41,000 $153,006 RNP
American $45,096 $151,318 49
New York Law School $47,800 $146,230 135
Phoenix $37,764 $145,357 RNP
Southwestern $42,200 $142,606 129
Catholic $41,830 $142,222 82
Northwestern $51,920 $139,101 12
Pace $40,730 $139,007 142

U.S. News & World Report, 10 Law Schools That Lead to the Least Debt:

Among the top 10 law schools with the lowest average indebtedness per student, the figure is $37,792—more than $60,000 lower than the overall average debt burden for law graduates.

Law School                   
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
Georgia State $14,770 $19,971 58
Southern $10,124 $22,138 RNP
Rutgers-Camden $25,464 $27,423 99
Texas Southern $16,262 $32,449 RNP
Drexel $36,051 $33,562 119
Barry $33,630 $41,190 RNP
Kansas $16,460 $41,574 89
Nebraska $13,887 $52,396 89
SUNY-Buffalo $20,718 $52,447 82
BYU $10,600 $54,766 39

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If you click through to the U.S. News website, you'll see that these numbers do not reflect the average debt per graduating student. They are the average debt per graduating student *who incurred law school debt*. At John Marshall, only 50% of students incurred debt, so their average law school debt per graduating student is only half of the figure in this chart. At Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, 94% of graduating students incurred law school debt, so the figure here is pretty close to the mark.

I would be interested in seeing figures that include debt incurred by law school dropouts.

Posted by: Jim Slade | Mar 26, 2012 6:08:30 AM

"Who the hell goes to U of Phoenix for law school?"

Phoenix School of Law is not U. of Phoenix. Although it may as well be.

Posted by: MC | Mar 25, 2012 1:35:37 AM

"How does BYU have tuition and fees of $10,600 and average debt of $54,766. That would require in excess of five years of law school on average to be true. Does it include undergraduate debt?"

Lots of BYU students (maybe a majority) are already married and have kids while in law school, so I'm sure much of the indebtedness is paying living expenses, health insurance, etc. It was in my case. Plus BYU, due to the low low price, is pretty stingy with scholarships, so most students are paying close to full freight, more so than at other schools. Finally, the few non-Mormons pay twice as much tuition, although there really aren't many so that's probably only a minor factor. My guess is that the first factor I listed is about 75% of it.

Posted by: MC | Mar 25, 2012 1:33:09 AM

Many BYU law students are married with a spouse and children to support. I expect that's why their debt to tuition ratio seems out of line - because they need more debt to support their dependents than the typical law student does.

Posted by: Bryan | Mar 24, 2012 8:11:24 PM

Wait -- Rutgers Camden costs 25k a year, but the average debt at graduation is only 27k? How can that be right?

Posted by: nope | Mar 24, 2012 7:07:51 PM

Peter, I believe have you forgotten that for full time students loans are also required to pay rent, eat and attempt to have a modest social life. Part-time jobs, if any, rarely provide enough.

Posted by: Todd | Mar 24, 2012 4:01:59 PM

Never a borrow or lender be. To Ben's sage advice, I might ad: "Never a penniless lawyer be."

Posted by: PacRim Jim | Mar 24, 2012 3:11:33 PM

Who the hell goes to U of Phoenix for law school?

Posted by: Professor Edwards | Mar 24, 2012 1:14:33 PM

How does BYU have tuition and fees of $10,600 and average debt of $54,766. That would require in excess of five years of law school on average to be true. Does it include undergraduate debt?

Posted by: Peter Imhoff | Mar 24, 2012 12:53:05 PM

In 2007-2008 state accredited, 4 year night program, San Francisco Law School charged $500/unit, 20 units/year. Federally backed loans were unavailable. Federal loans became available in 2010-2011 with the school's merger into Alliant International Univerisity. Cost was $650/unit. The school began a scale-back of its merit scholarship program which traditionally paid 100% tuition for the top student (based on previous year's performance), 50% for no. 2, and 1/3 for no. 3. In 2011-2012, the school eliminated the merit scholarships and now awards based on need. The school also is giving all 2012 graduates (approximately 10) pre-paid BARBRI courses in an effort to boost its bar exam pass rate (50% last year for first time takers, myself included among the passers; generally less than 1/3 pass rate over the prior 10 years; among the top in the state in the 1960s-1980s.) With federal loans available, tuition rose to $800/unit for 2011-2012.

SFLS was a hell of a deal. Now, not so much. I got through in 2011 for less than $40,000 by being no. 2 2nd and 3rd year, receiving 50% scholarship 3rd year and approximately $6,000 off the $13,000 tuition 4th year. No debt for the first 3 years, because loans were unavailable. $20,000 debt the last year because it was convenient to take the loan and I don't have a hard time repaying it. The kid who was no. 1 years 1-3 probably got through for less than $15,000 and was not only first in his family to go to law school, he was first to go to college.

I see SFLS going forward as much less of a good deal. While bar exam pass rate was low in the past, that was a function of student motivation, not education received. It is very difficult to work full time and go to law school. I don't think the school will focus on the working student going forward, and it is already planning day courses and eventually a 3 year program. Student debt will will grow to rival the schools appearing in your high debt list. So will tuition. Too bad - this 102 year old school with a rich history appears to be making the same mistakes as have those it will soon rival. Whether its bar exam pass rate will improve will be seen only over time.

Posted by: GCA | Mar 24, 2012 12:48:59 PM