Tuition reductions “carry both reputational and financial risks that must be carefully managed,” stated a Moody’s Investor Service report this past April. “Despite the desire for greater value, many students still associate price with quality.”
That statement might be true on some level, but The Wall Street Journal’s analysis of preliminary enrollment data shows that these days, plenty of students simply associate lower prices with lower debt: Though the number of law school applicants dropped for the fourth year in a row, four schools significantly boosted enrollment after cutting tuition.
It looks like this move doesn’t work at just one type of school. Two of the schools listed below are private, two are public, and each is in a different region of the country:
The University of Iowa College of Law approved a 16.4% tuition cut for J.D. students last December. That translated into a $7,750 discount for non-residents and a $4,309 discount for residents. Now that the cut is in effect, the number of students in Iowa’s 2014 entering class went up by 48. “We want to take a leading role in the evolving face of legal education and ensure our place as a best value proposition among the top public law schools,” Dean Gail Agrawal said in a statement when the school announced the cut. The move seems to have paid off.
In January, the Roger Williams University School of Law announced that it would cut tuition by 18%—from $41,400 to $33,792—for the 2014-2015 academic year. This year, first-year enrollment went up by 28%—good news for Rhode Island’s only law school.
The school gave students who were already enrolled two options: keeping the financial aid awards they already had and paying the higher price, or waiving their awards and paying the lower price. “As a practical matter, students with aid above $7,608 will probably choose to keep their current level of aid, and students with aid below $7,608, or with no aid, will presumably opt for the new tuition model,” the school said in its announcement.
Of all the schools, the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law saw the biggest enrollment bump by far: 46%. That’s likely because the school cut its price in half for one big group of students. In-state students entering this fall will each receive a $20,000 grant, renewable for three years, toward the school’s $41,088 annual tuition. (Those students will still be able to get scholarships and financial aid.) The grants will allow Penn State, which doesn’t offer in-state tuition, to compete with other Pennsylvania schools. Will those grants continue beyond this year? That remains to be seen, because beginning in fall 2015, Penn State’s two campuses will function as two completely different law schools.
Between 2010 and 2013, the University of La Verne College of Law in California saw a 66.2% drop in enrollment. That’s incredibly steep, even for a law school; you know you’re in trouble when your enrollment figures are worse than Cooley Law’s. In accordance with the idea that times call for drastic measures, La Verne reduced tuition from $39,500 to $25,000 and completely did away with merit aid (which tends to help students who are already privileged). The move seems to have turned things around a bit: First-year enrollment shot up by 22%.
As an unranked school, La Verne is something of an exception. In most cases, tuition reductions don’t seem to boost enrollment much if you’re outside of U.S. News’ list of the top 100 law schools. Moreover, Iowa Law saw its median LSAT score go down, and Roger Williams saw both its median LSAT score and median GPA fall.
But these were all drops of a single point or less. Considering how much debt law students get saddled with, is that really so terrible?