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New law school graduate debt figures

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US News has just published data on class of 2013 law school graduate debt. Matt Leichter points out that an unusually large number of ABA schools — 14 out of 201 — chose not to reveal this figure to US News (Schools are required to report these numbers to the ABA Section of Legal Education, but as of now the Section only publishes aggregate debt figures. In a typical year around four schools don’t report to US News). Also Barry, a Florida bottom feeder, obviously only reported debt incurred by graduates during their third year. They made the same mistake in 2011, got called out for it, gave the correct figure for the class of 2012, and then misreported again in 2013.

The schools that didn’t report were mostly places that would be shut down instantly if the federal government could bestir itself to apply even the most minimal regulatory controls to the money it shovels into law school coffers in the form of student loans that aren’t going to be paid back (Cooley, one of the John Marshalls, Touro etc.). But the list also included Cornell, which happens to have the highest tuition of any law school in the country (And hopefully the universe: $59,550, including mandatory fees).

Anyway, the figures published by US News are seriously understated, for several reasons:

(1) They only represent the total sum of federal educational loans issued to students while in school. This omits the interest accrued on these loans, as well as origination fees, which are absurdly high (4% in the case of GRADPLUS, which applies to all loans beyond the first $20,500 taken out in any year). Interest accrued and origination fees can be calculated readily, so I’ve included them in the figures below.

(2) It also omits debt that doesn’t run through a school’s financial aid conduits, such as private loans — these are rare as of post-2010 among professional students, since they can borrow an unlimited amount from the feds, but they still exist.

(3) More significantly it omits family loans, such as when parents tap HELOCs to pay for their child’s Very Prestigious Symbol of Prestige.

(4) It also doesn’t include student credit card debt incurred to cover expenses during law school, or loans taken out after graduation and prior to the bar (usually taken three months after graduation) to cover living expenses and bar preparation and administration costs.

(5) It doesn’t include other educational debt. Average undergraduate debt among college graduates with debt (around two thirds) is now running at nearly $30,000 per year, apparently because Kids Today drive fancier cars than their professors and insist on squandering money on frivolous gadgets like cell phones and ipods that play so-called “rap” music.

I’ve calculated the average total owed on federal loans when the first payment came due, that is, in November 2013, for the graduates of the ten schools with the highest reported graduate debt. Note that the figures below only include (1) above, and that the actual educational debt carried by graduates of these schools is considerably higher (The list includes Arizona Summit, fka Phoenix School of Law, which didn’t report to US News but did put the relevant figures on its web site. It doesn’t include any of the other 13 schools that didn’t report, a few of which probably would have made it into the top ten).

The number after the debt figure is the number of 2012 graduates of these schools who got jobs with large law firms, or federal judicial clerkships (This number is a good proxy for the number of graduates who got jobs that hold out some reasonable prospect of careers which will allow graduates to service six-figure debt loads).

Arizona Summit: $225,321 (1 of 181)

Thomas Jefferson: $219,734 (1 of 260)

New York Law School: $200,046 (34 of 601)

American: $192,688 (58 of 463)

California Western: $191,347 (3 of 283)

Northwestern: $188,851 (164 of 295)

Whittier: $187,301 (1 of 170)

Chicago: $186,474 (152 of 215)

Florida Coastal: $182,266 (5 of 510)

St. Thomas (Miami): $182,057 (0 of 216)

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