Following up on Thursday's post, Brooklyn Law School Cuts Tuition by 15%: New York Times, A Bold Bid to Combat a Crisis in Legal Education, by James B. Stewart:
Brooklyn Law School is hardly alone in facing a crisis in legal education. Five law schools have closed in the last two years, more than at any other time in American history.
But this week, it announced that it was taking some unusually bold steps to confront the crisis: The school is cutting tuition and abandoning what has become a widespread obsession with climbing the ladder of national law school rankings. ...
A few other schools are experimenting, but few, if any, have taken the comprehensive steps that Brooklyn Law School is adopting. Brooklyn will hold tuition at its current level — $1,800 a credit, or $53,850 a year — for the class entering this fall. Next year, it will introduce an across-the-board 15 percent cut in tuition. It is also reducing some kinds of merit aid, increasing need-based aid and offering a curriculum that allows some students to graduate in two years rather than the standard three. “It’s still expensive, and I wish we could do more,” Mr. Allard said.
The move will be closely watched by other law schools. “I really admire what they’re doing,” Brian Tamanaha, author of the groundbreaking book “Failing Law Schools” and a law professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said of Brooklyn Law School. “If we all did this, it would be so much better than the current situation. Everyone is fighting for their own economic survival.” ...
The riskiest of Brooklyn’s moves isn’t likely to be the headline tuition cut, but the accompanying reduction in merit aid. Merit aid is really a tuition discount for the most qualified students. Law schools (not to mention colleges and universities generally) speak in terms of “net” tuition revenue, since so few students pay the list price. And as the competition for the best students — or even average students — from a rapidly dwindling pool of applicants has intensified, law schools’ net tuition revenue has been in steep decline.
As Professor Tamanaha points out, the result of so much merit aid is that students with lower test scores and weak academic records receive little or no merit aid and take on the biggest debt. Those are the very students who are least likely to perform well at law school, pass the bar and get jobs after graduation, but they end up subsidizing the best students — those least likely to need the assistance. “It’s bizarre,” Professor Tamanaha said. “Law schools nationwide could immediately drop tuition by one-third if we cut out merit scholarships.”
Brooklyn isn’t quite going cold turkey. “We’ll be much more selective about merit scholarships,” Mr. Allard said, but the school will still award scholarships “for people with impressive G.P.A.s who have demonstrated they are well prepared for success in law. LSAT scores don’t figure in this.”
The risk for Brooklyn Law School, or for any school trying to break ranks by reducing merit aid, is that their rivals will pick off the best applicants with better offers and they’ll drop in the U.S. News rankings, which rely heavily on average test scores and grade point averages.