At a C-rated school such as Wake Forest, the coverage ratio of 4.27 shows the student loan obligation to be “very demanding,” Pollock says. That’s because the ratio represents a $67,500 average starting salary, and nearly $16,000 in student loan payments. Looked at another way, it means nearly a quarter of the typical graduate’s salary goes toward paying off the law school debt.
While Pollock emphasizes that M7 report’s results don’t indicate educational quality at the schools covered, and that for people determined to become lawyers, the debt issue may not be a defining concern, students entering C-rated programs can expect a significant post-graduation struggle. “When you get down to C, (the debt burden) is very demanding. You’re making many compromises. You’re feeling that student loan payment every month. Clearly at C you’re needing to budget for the student loan payment.”
Also in the C ratings, you’ll find Washington & Lee University, George Mason University, and Pepperdine University, with starting salaries around $70,000 and indebtedness ranging from George Mason’s $118,791 to Pepperdine’s $145,893, and payments of around $17,000 per year for Washington & Lee and George Mason, and of more than $20,000 for Pepperdine.
LOW-RATED SCHOOL ‘CONSTANTLY EVALUATING’ AFFORDABILITY
“Pepperdine law students choose to enter a number of different career paths upon graduation, the value of which cannot always be measured by median starting salaries,” says university spokesperson Tom Inkel. “With that in mind, however, we are constantly evaluating how we can make the substantial investment in law school education more affordable for our students.”
One possibility for schools to examine would be reducing the duration of law school, Pollock suggests after conducting the ratings, which followed a similar M7 Financial report on 32 MBA programs – which typically require two years of study. The MBA program report gave out one A+ (to BYU), 20 As, nine A-minuses, two Bs (two Thunderbird and Pepperdine), and no lower grades. Pollock says the law school ratings surprised him, particularly the six schools receiving Cs.
“Among MBA programs there were zero (Cs),” Pollock says. “That’s a real differentiator. The majority (of law schools) rated were B. Only two MBA programs were B. There were only three (law schools) rated A and no A-pluses.
“It made me really question whether you really need three years of study in law, because I think that’s the major factor that’s contributing to this level of indebtedness,” Pollock says.
Pollock notes that the debt situation varies among students at any given school, largely because scholarships can reduce the burden.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM, PERHAPS
And a recent study may provide reason for prospective law students to take an optimistic view. Law professors Frank McIntire and Michael Simkovic concluded that lawyers can make up in their later careers for lower earnings in the first few. And University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter wrote in a March blog post that, “The reality is that students who do not go to law school usually need some kind of further education for employment purposes.
“But what are the other options? It is far from obvious. And as the systematic research has shown conclusively, the J.D. continues to pay off for the vast majority of students over the long-term.”