If law schools can lower tuition, why not colleges?

Posted on April 22nd, 2014

College applications were down this year at many top colleges, including Harvard and Dartmouth. This has led some in higher education to worry whether we’ll start seeing fewer people completing college degrees. It’s even caused some colleges to be forced to close.

Law schools cutting tuition to attract students

Many law schools have seen similar declines in applications due to the high cost of law school and the lack of open law jobs. According to the Law School Admission Council, more than 100,000 people applied to law schools in 2004. But last year, only 59,400 applied.

But unlike most colleges, law schools are taking a unique approach to reverse the trend: cutting their prices.

The American Bar Association reported that law schools at public universities dropped their median tuition by an average of 5% in 2011 and another 8% in 2012. Private law school tuition increased, but by an annual average of only 4%, the lowest in 26 years.

According to Hechinger Report, Roger Williams University cut its prices by 18% this year, and Pennsylvania State University has offered  in-state residents annual $20,000 tuition discounts at its Dickinson School of Law, effectively cutting tuition nearly in half.

The tuition reduction has helped colleges like the University of Iowa Law School, which cut tuition 16% this year, buck the trend. According to the law school’s dean, Gail Agrawal, applications have jumped more than 70% so far in 2014 over this point last year.

High college costs a barrier for many students

Besides demographic changes, one reason for the decrease in college applications is that higher education has become prohibitively expensive for many families.

Even though college graduates earn more money and are more employable than non-college graduates, the cost is simply too high for many students and parents to afford without taking on significant student debt.

And with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and online education, it’s not surprising that many students have begun to question the value of a college degree and explored alternative paths to their education.

Why don’t undergraduate colleges reduce prices?

As law school cut tuition to compete for students, some education advocates have wondered why undergraduate colleges can’t do the same. As Roger Williams president Donald Farish tells Hechinger Report:

A lot of schools are being, frankly, unimaginative. It’s abundantly clear that the rising costs of the past 20 years have collided with the economic realities.

At the risk of indicting an entire industry, I think we’ve been kind of lazy in our thinking. We always just pass on the costs to students and their families.

Colleges need to take responsibility for costs

While colleges cite consequences such as layoffs or increased class sizes as reasons they can’t lower their prices, it’s become increasingly clear that something needs to change.

Administrative costs are a huge part of the budgets at most colleges, and some argue that advancements in technology have made many of these costs unnecessary and colleges need to take alternative approaches to cutting costs, such as consolidation.

Converse College in South Carolina, has been one of the few exceptions of undergraduate colleges cutting tuition–the school cut its tuition by 43% for next year. We hope to see more colleges following the paths of Converse College and law schools and being creative in their approach to cutting costs to make college more affordable.

Category: College Costs

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