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by Vault Education Editors | May 25, 2011


Anyone doubting that law school tuition—or higher ed tuition in general—has gotten out of hand? Take a gander at these law school tuition stats from a comprehensive report on law schools from the late 50s.

Median annual tuition and fees at private law schools was $475 (range $50-$1050); adjusted for inflation, that's $3,419 in 2011 dollars. The median for public law schools was $204 (range $50 - $692), or $1,550 in 2011 dollars. [For comparison, in 2009 the private law school median was $36,000; the public (resident) median was $16,546.]

Now that’s value, a real bargain, no, better than a bargain—a steal. Yes, law school was a steal back in those days. But it only seems so to us, we who live in a time of private law schools raising tuition at nearly twice the rate of inflation every year (and much faster at public law schools). Even then, with those affordable price tags, the authors of the study were actually worried about the rapid rate at which tuition was escalating, and the negative effect it was having on prospective law students.

The report expressed concern about cost: "The cost of attending law school at least doubled in the [past] 16 years..., raising the question whether able, but impecunious, students are being directed away from law study."

We know now that law school has only remained available to the “able, but impecunious” because they take out ridiculously huge loans. With law school really only affordable to the wealthy and to scholarship students, and the legal job market the way it is, how many people are willing to take on massive debt and risk a life of penury? Likely, a good deal will avoid law school altogether. If that happens, a lot of law schools, so dependent on tuition money, could be forced to shut their doors. Can anyone say higher education bubble?



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Filed Under: Education|Grad School