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Interim dean at UA Law discusses tuition policy

Legal News Reporter

Published: March 25, 2013

The University of Akron School of Law has recently announced a forward-looking tuition policy that is designed to give stability to the financial end of attending law school.

The school is freezing the tuition rates for 2013 incoming freshmen, so that they will pay the same amount for their entire law school career. In addition, the school is reducing its out-of-state tuition surcharge to $50 per semester.

This move comes on the heels of the school being named as the top Ohio law school in 2012 in value, which was measured in terms of tuition dollars matching employment probabilities in a survey conducted by the National Jurist Magazine.

Akron’s tuition freeze is a reaction to the national trend, now at two years and running, in which applications to law school have decreased by 20 to 40 percent across the board, said current interim law school dean Elizabeth A. Reilly.

Nationally, a recent report said that law school applications will hit a 30-year low in 2013.

This is a result, said the study, of a precipitous drop-off in employment probabilities for law school graduate, due to multiple reasons, most of which are economic. According to the National Association of Legal Placement, only 60 percent of 2011 law school graduates found full-time employment as attorneys—down nearly 20 percent from 2007.

To counter this problem, Akron Law created its tuition freeze.

“We created a single, predictable tuition that a student can rely on throughout law school,” said Reilly.

The point of going to law school at Akron altogether is value, said Reilly, “is to make a legal education a really good value for students, and to make sure that we are preparing lawyers for the kind of legal work that is actually out there in the market. We know that there are many unmet legal needs, and these positions have to be filled by people who graduate from law school with reasonable debt loads. We are taking every reasonable step that we can to make sure that our graduates get the jobs that we know are out there.”

The average debt load for a graduating senior for Akron Law is the lowest of any law school in the state at about $67,000, said Reilly, a figure, she said, that was also among the lowest in the country. “We compare very favorably,” she said. And that was before the tuition freeze.

Applications for law schools nationwide for the incoming freshman class this year were down almost a third from the previous year, and those were also down a quarter or more.

Of the 200 or so law school in the country, only four saw an increase in applications, and only one of those saw an increase of more than ten percent, Reilly said.

“Last year,” said Reilly, “we only saw a 12.2 percent decrease in applications. Even though we are down this year, it is somewhat offset by the fact that we were not hit that hard, relatively, last year.”

One of the theories that Reilly says have come out of the current national discussions on law school tuition, application numbers and employment for new law school grads is that there may be a “cascading effect” to law school apps. That would mean, she said, that the higher the ranking of the school (usually by U.S. News and World Report), the less likely the school will be affected by a decrease in numbers of applicants.

According to this theory, Reilly said the more qualified applicants bump themselves up on their individual list of schools that they can apply to, so the quality of the applicants decreases the further down the list.

“People in our applicant pool may be getting into better law schools that they may have been able to get into in the past,” said Reilly.

On the other hand, she said, the cascade effect may not be all that profound. What has also happened, she said, is that highly qualified college graduates who do well on the LSAT are simply not applying to law school at all. “People who score pretty high on the LSAT are deciding not to apply to law school at a pretty high rate,” she said.