Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School: Lowest Tuitions for a Private Law School

The Appalachian School of Law has one of the Lowest Tuitions of any Private Law School East of the Mississippi River

Appalachian School of Law, given our mission and the population we serve, has worked to keep tuition affordable.

For the 2012-13 year, we charged $31,000 per year.  And, we lock that number in for the remaining two years of law school.  This number does not reflect scholarships or tuition remission many students obtain.

As a private law school, we rely on tuition and donations to operate the school. We get no state tax monies (as far as I know) or infusion of capital from a university parent.

A recently updated comparison of 106 private law schools, provided by Regent Law School, shows that the Appalachian School of Law joins seven other private law schools with tuition costs below $31,000. Only three of those schools are located east of the Mississippi River.  Their tuition costs range from $29,360 to $30,450 for the 2012-13 year -- so not far off from ASL's tuition.

Cornell University is the most expensive private law school on the comparison list at $55,220.   Brigham Young University is the most affordable law school on the list at $22,900.  Brigham, no doubt, receives subsidies or donations from the Mormon Church to help keep its tuition so affordable.

The ABA reports that average tuition for private law schools in 2012 was $40,834, showing a 4 percent increase over the previous year.  For 1986 to 1993, schools increased tuition, on average, by 8 percent to 11 percent.  For 1994 to 2008, schools increased law school tuition, on average, by 5 to 7 percent.

The recession clearly affected tuition by reducing the average annual increase to 4 or 5 percent since 2008. For the same period, U.S. consumer price inflation rates fell to .01 percent in 2008 to a high of 3 percent in 2011.  For 2012, the rate was 1.7 percent, substantially below the 6 percent increase in average law school tuition rates implemented at the start of that academic year.

In 1980, I entered law school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.  I recall paying $6,000 a year in tuition, which an online inflation calculator indicates would be equivalent to $16,718 in 2012.  The Regent Law School comparison list shows that this top-ranked school now charges $46,710 per year in 2012-13.

Many of the scambloggers have speculated about why we have seen increases in tuition that exceed cost-of-living inflation rates.  I don't have any empirically proven answers.  I suspect that the U.S. News Ranking system caused many schools to incur costs in their attempt to achieve a better ranking.  Maybe they bought fancier buildings, bigger name professors, and students with higher entry level statistics. Interestingly, U.S. New and World Report began ranking law schools in 1989, when law schools began imposing significant increases in average tuition costs, as the ABA report cited above shows.  

Changes in ABA accreditation standards have also played a role, I think.  For instance, our library collection and related costs represent about one-sixth of our budget.  From my perspective, the ABA standards, which resist the conversion of collections from hard copies to eBooks and online services, play some role in the expense we incur in that category.  The ABA accreditation standards also limit the number of credits a student can earn using distance learning, which allows schools to reach more students at affordable rates.

The downturn in applications to law school will likely put appropriate pressure on administrators to find inefficiencies and reduce costs so they can make law school more affordable to students.  Several schools are freezing or lowering tuition this year.

For more information, contact our Admissions Office at 276-935-4349 and here.

For information about our generous scholarship program, see here.

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