It’s a Trap! Why So Many Young Lawyers Are Caught by Law School Debt
On average, law school graduates rack up about $100,000 worth of debt over the course of a three year degree in student loans. According theU.S. News and World Report, the average student loan debt for non-legal degrees is approximately $30,000.
So why is a law degree over 200% more costly? How do law schools get away with charging such inflated tuitions? The answer may surprise you.
School Prestige and Federal Loans: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
The prestige of a law school is one of the main incentives driving applications. That prestige, in turn, heavily depends on accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA). Unfortunately, that prestige comes at a cost: graduates of non-recognized schools have fewer options in their careers when compared to more sought-after accredited school graduates.
But why shouldn’t accredited schools cost more? After all, student loans can manage that cost…or can they?
Ask any recent law school graduate, and she’ll tell you that her need to repay an enormous student debt burden has forced her to rethink her career—possibly many times. And that debt load is fueled by accreditation standards and federal loan exploitation.
- Accreditation standards. In order to be recognized as an ABA-certified law school, a university must abide by strict (and expensive) ABA demands, one of which is being non-profit. Since the school can’t make its own profits, it must increase its tuition to pay for ABA-mandated enhancements. Students take on debt to pay for the school’s prestigious attractions, these vanity projects help lure in more law school applicants. It’s a never-ending cycle.
- Federal loans. In order to afford a degree from a prestigious law school, the majority of students rely on federal loans to pay tuition and expenses. But, as of a decade ago, the rules for student loans were relaxed, allowing law students to borrow the full value of tuition with minimal oversight. The result has been an explosion of debt that ignores the students’ future ability to pay—and the law schools contributed to this crisis by raising tuition rates ever higher.
Over $50 million worth of federal loan money is granted each year to accredited law schools for student use. Since schools are aware of this money, they’ve been steadily increasing tuition without restraint. Since the money is there, it’s easy for a university to convince would-be students that taking a loan for a degree from a prominent institution is the best course.
Is this best for the legal system? Is it best for America? Almost certainly not. It’s pretty clear that inflated law school costs must be controlled—and soon—and that lower tuitions would be beneficial to both students and the university.