Law Schools Sneakily Boost Placement Rates


ABA Releases Details of Law Schools’ Enrollment Declines

The weather is lousy and the world is in chaos, so you know what this calls for: Another round of law-school-in-decline statistics.
This week’s numbers are courtesy of the American Bar Association.  And they aren’t pretty. Let’s start with the New England School of Law, ranked #61 by U.S. News and World Report, which saw first years decline from 450 students in 2012 to 238 in 2013, a 47% drop.
Of course, the school resorts to the usual PR speak. They cite historically higher enrollments in 2012 and note that their declines occurred later than other schools. Like most schools, they’ve started trimming the staff, with eight professors accepting voluntary buyouts. Whether the school’s decision to become smaller was strategic or essential to survival, you know they’re serious when a dean takes a 25% pay cut (even if he was being paid $867,000 a year).
Alas, New England Law wasn’t the only school that took a big hit. Washington and Lee, ranked #26, suffered a 41% decline in the past year. Like New England Law, Washington and Lee claims not to worry, referring to 2012 enrollments as a historical high and claiming their 120 student class of 2016 is the new normal.
Other highly ranked school that experienced steep enrollment declines in 2013 include #26 University of Iowa (40%), #38 University of California-Davis (25%), and #68 Case Western Reserve (35%).
For many schools, waning enrollments are an existential threat as much as a financial one. Gail Agrawal, dean of Iowa Law, notes in a recent letter that the decline has forced schools to balance survival with principle, particularly when it comes to student quality. “With significantly fewer applicants to choose from this year, we were left with a decision: maintain the number of students in the incoming class or maintain the high quality of our student body,” she wrote. “You will not be surprised to learn that we chose to protect the caliber of the class rather than its size.”
Naturally, not every school will take this route. Despite the negative news, some law schools are experiencing growth. Mercer Law, renowned for its legal writing program, saw a 44% increase in 2013, though these incoming students had slight decreases in LSAT scores and GPAs, according to the National Law Review. Wake Forest  and Samford University also experienced 43% enrollment increases of their incoming classes.
Overall, 62 schools reported enrollment increases for 1Ls in 2013. However, 132 of the 199 ABA-accredited law schools suffered enrollment dives, with 13 schools facing declines of 30% or more. Another 27 schools had enrollment decreases between 20% and 30%.
For additional data on law school enrollment, click here.
Source: National Law Journal

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