The ABA Journal reported yesterday that Roger Williams University in Rhode Island has cut tuition by 18 percent, lowering tuition from $41,400 to $33,792 for the 2014-15 school year. The reduction, which fixes tuition for at least three years, amounts to $7,600 saved yearly for full-time students.

Roger Williams University, home to Rhode Island’s only law school

When Iowa and Penn State lowered tuition over a month ago, we were hopeful that this was just the beginning of widespread tuition reductions at U.S. law schools. Since then, the hoped for cascade of cuts has yet to materialize. It is not too surprising, however, that changes at law schools will come about slowly. Roger Williams’ tuition slash certainly gives cause for optimism: the other schools announcing tuition reductions this year have been public institutions — Roger Williams is the first private law school to announce a big cut. And whereas cost cuts at other schools have only served to bring tuition in line with peer institutions, Roger Willams’ move lowers their tuition well below that of many competing schools.

So while the WSJ’s law blog called this part of a mini-trend, it’s really the first change of its kind.  Let’s hope it does become a trend!

To future law students keeping an eye on law school tuition, this is an important development. A tuition reduction to well below the “market rate” at one school is the potential first in a row of dominoes, bringing falling costs elsewhere as law schools compete to attract students.

Changes in this direction couldn’t be more needed — LSAC recently announced another drop in the number of students taking the LSAT this December, capping off fourteen straight LSAT administrations where fewer students took the LSAT than a year prior (source: Lower prices are necessary to reestablish law as a desirable profession and bring back higher caliber students who have, increasingly, been seen fleeing to other fields.

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  1. Granted. But the reality is that right now it is getting easier for median scoring LSAT takers to get in a higher percentile range, meaning that there are fewer higher scoring LSAT takers each test administration. That means that the high ranked schools, in order to keep their numbers up, have to admit more and more students that they might not have considered admitting in the past. So the low ranked schools like RWU have to find ways to keep their numbers up as well. They are already take LSAT scores as low as 130, the alternative to going as far down as 120 (all the test taker would have to do is show up and put their name on the test) is to lower tuition to make it sound like it’s a great deal. Nevermind that the tuition should never have been in the mid-40s to begin with. Many schools such as LSU, Montana and Wyoming have lower tuitions AND tenured professors AND manage to be ranked higher than 173. RWU’s lowering of tuition is nothing more than a response to the market. Eventually some of these bottom of the pile schools are going to have to close. It doesn’t matter that it’s the only law school in the state. You don’t have to law school in a particular state in order to practice law in that state. Alaska doesn’t have a law school and yet they still manage to have practicing lawyers.
    If this is going to be an upward trend, I suspect that it will be temporary. Once there are fewer schools and a lot fewer applicants the law school industry will resume raising tuitions. We’re seeing it in the housing market now. Greed is the same no matter the industry.

    • Yeah, I have to say that I agree with your jaundiced view for the most part. I’m cautiously hopeful that schools will not be able to jack up prices too much now that there is a lot more information available to future law students. Paying a lot to go to an unranked school was always a pretty bad bet, but now many more people know it.

      Obviously I’m hoping for actual regulation of the legal education market, just like everyone else except the free-marketeers. They’ll take the slightly falling prices as evidence that the market is working. It’s clearly not. Still, some market correction is better than no change or schools getting more expensive, which is all we’ve seen until recently.

  2. It doesn’t matter if Roger Williams is lowering tuition. They are ranked so low that attending RWU would be career suicide unless they were giving a full tuition scholarship with cost of attendance, plus you were only planning to open your own practice after graduating. US News shows them as “rank not published” and shows them at 173. Why would anyone pay $33K a year for such a low ranked school. There are cheaper alternatives that are also ranked higher.

    • Yes, I agree that under almost all circumstances attending RWU is going to be a bad idea right now and for the foreseeable future, price cut or no, but that doesn’t wholly diminish the significance of what happened here.

      By lowering price RWU essentially admits, as all other schools in this tier should, that the 40K+ price tag they were sporting is way too much. We can’t very well expect these schools to halve tuition right away, because they have too many non-movable assets (i.e. tenured professors) on their books. Slashing 7K off is a big reduction that hopefully, heralds a willingness on the part of such schools to start moving towards a model of low cost education.

      The event isn’t so important viewed in isolation, but like I said I’m hoping that it will start a chain reaction. If the majority of unranked schools start charging less, it will eventually put pressure on the lower-down ranked schools to do so.

      I wish this stuff would happen overnight, but it’s not going to. Still, any positive movement is worth talking about. Law school tuition has been going up sharply at almost all law schools despite plummeting demand, which is frankly crazy. I’m just happy to see evidence that sane people are running one school.

      RWU is the only law school is the state. If they get that tuition below 20K I think it could occupy a useful niche someday.

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