Editorial: Admission declines call the worth of a law degree into question
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 11, 2013 21:02
UConn Law School’s total enrollment this past year was 623 students, its lowest such number since 615 students back in 1998. Presumably the figure will drop even lower next year, as UConn Law’s enrollment has either declined or stayed level every year since 2008 and a drop in applications is expected this year.
This trend is not only present at UConn: law school applications and admissions are both down. The Law School Admissions Council projects this year will see the lowest applications figures in three decades, and the lowest enrollment since 1977. The numbers had been gradually declining over the past decade, but the truly steep plunge began for the entering class of 2010 (which is to say applications due in 2009). Since 2010 alone, applications nationwide have decreased 38 percent, even as undergraduate applications have increased.
But is this overall a negative development? Not necessarily.
The job market for lawyers is terrible right now, with only 55 percent of those finishing law school finding full-time jobs that required a law degree, according to the American Bar Association. At the same time, tuition has skyrocketed. The average public law school tuition (a category including UConn) increased 177 percent since 2001, with private law schools increasing “only” 76 percent in that time. Basic rules of economics indicate that the more valuable a service or product is, the higher the cost should be. But law schools seemed to deliberate do the opposite: charging a larger and larger amount for a product which had less and less value, at least if employability was the defining factor. With fewer students but roughly the same number of jobs available, the percentage of law school graduates who find law-related employment will surely go up as a result.
In other words, do not think of this as an application and admissions decrease to numbers that are too low. Instead, think of this as application and admissions decrease from numbers that were too high to numbers that are about where they need to be. Hopefully, free market forces will bring both enrollment and tuition to the optimal levels, providing the best outcome for students, faculty, the job market, and the number of lawyers needed for both our state and our nation at large.