Home / General / Since 2012 Harvard Law School has raised tuition 502% faster than the inflation rate

Since 2012 Harvard Law School has raised tuition 502% faster than the inflation rate



In its own small way, that sentence summarizes many of the pathologies of the new gilded age.

As of 2012 HLS was charging $50,880 per year in tuition and fees. This fall that figure will be $60,638: a 19.2% increase in nominal dollars. But what about inflation? Since 2012 cumulative (not annual) inflation per the Consumer Price Index has been 3.19%. So HLS has raised tuition almost exactly six times faster than inflation.

As in so many ways, Harvard is a leader in this regard: on average, elite law schools — the proverbial Top 14 — raised tuition by 10.6% between 2012 and 2015, a relatively modest 231% faster than the inflation rate. (Only Harvard and Yale among those 14 schools have announced 2016 tuition rates. An apples to apples comparison shows Harvard raising tuition 355% faster than the inflation rate between 2012 and 2015).

Here are the data, based on 509 disclosure form figures:

2012 tuition Percentage of students paying full tuition 2015 tuition Percentage increase

UC-B: $52,019 42.3% $52,576 1.1%
Stanford: $50,802 46.4% $56,274 10.8%
Yale: $53,600 42.4% $58,050 8.3%
GULC: $48,835 62.4% $55,255 13.1%
Northwestern: $53,468 60.3% $58,398 9.2%
Chicago: $50,727 35.7% $58,065 14.5%
Harvard: $50,880 52.5% $58,242 14.5%
Michigan: $51,250 28.1% $56,112 9.5%
Columbia: $55,488 54.1% $62,700 13%
NYU: $51,150 44.8% $59,330 16%
Duke: $51,662 10.9% $57,717 11.7%
Penn: $53,138 51.4% $58,918 10.9%
Cornell: $55,301 52.3% $59,981 8.5%
UVA: $52,999 52.5% $57,000 7.5%

A few notes:

(1) Why do people accept this so passively? Over the past decade starting salaries for both associates at big law firms, and for law graduates who obtain full-time employment, have declined by 15% in real dollars. Yet at the vast majority of law schools tuition keeps going up much faster than the rate of inflation every single year (Between 2003-2013, which is the most current decade-long stretch for which I have data, tuition at private law schools rose 30% in constant dollars.) Why is it OK to be constantly paying more and more for something whose value seems to be declining?

(2) Harvard’s law school — the law school mind you, not the university — is reputed to have an endowment of around two billion dollars currently. That means it throws off about $90 million per year in expendable income. $90 million is more than the entire operating budget of almost every other law school in the country. Why does this institution, which obviously plays a key symbolic role in determining what an elite education ought to cost, think it’s OK to keep gouging its students? (Yes, HLS gives “need-based” scholarships. For the poorest students — people from families with no or negligible assets — those scholarships still leave those students with a three-year cost of attendance of $150,000, compared to the $270,000 undiscounted COA, which more than half of all HLS students pay, including many students who come from far from wealthy backgrounds. And 98.5% of law schools offer NO need-based aid to speak of at all).

(3) And it’s not just Harvard — it’s pretty much everybody. Everybody among the elites (other than Berkeley) keeps raising tuition every year far faster than inflation. Obviously this has nothing to do with every university administrator’s favorite excuse for the price gouging Generation Y (and X, and the Boomers, who contrary to popular legend paid vastly more for higher ed than their parents did), i.e., declining public subsidies. [ETA: Some commenters are incredulous regarding the statement that baby boomers paid far more for higher ed than their parents. A couple of examples: Somebody born in 1930 who went straight through Michigan undergrad and law school and paid resident tuition would have paid $12,080 total tuition in 2014 dollars. Somebody born in 1950 — early boomer — would have paid $29,300 in 2014 dollars. Harvard’s law school tuition was nearly three times higher in constant dollars in the mid-1970s than it had been in the mid-1950s. And there were many student protests in the 1960s and 1970s against rising tuition. I don’t have comparative numbers but it seems there were many more then than today]. Leaving aside the inconvenient truth that subsidies to public higher ed aren’t actually declining at all on average –there are of course certain notable exceptions — these are almost all private institutions.

When are American students and their families going to rebel against this nonsense?

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  • Nick never Nick

    I don’t know why people accept it passively, but it might have to do with the theory of luxury goods, or whatever the thing is named — whining about Harvard’s price would defeat the purpose of Harvard, only people like you or I would do something so declasse.

    • Funkhauser

      Bernie Trump’s complaints aside, an HLS degree is still a gateway to being among the American economic and social elite.

      Because HLS can charge that.

      • postmodulator

        It’s a winner-take-all society thing, too; one of the points Campos always makes is that there’s no point going to law school unless you get into a Top 10 school. So the law school crisis has, perversely, made an HLS law degree comparatively even more valuable.

        • PaulB

          This isn’t correct, at least in an economic sense. When you look at the rise in tuition at the elite law schools, you have to remember that compensation for big law associates is unchanged over the last eight or nine years. The net economic value of a t-14 degree has been dramatically reduced.

          • postmodulator

            But the value of a non-elite degree has plummeted. That’s what I mean by winner-take-all; there’s a small subset of law schools where you can expect steady employment after graduation, and everyplace else it’s a crap shoot.

            • Crusty

              It should be considered that someone who can get into HLS probably has the opportunity to do something like work at McKinsey or an investment bank, where they pay you instead of you paying them.

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                This. There is also some research to suggest that if you don’t come from an elite undergrad program but somehow get into a HLS or similar, your lifetime earnings will trail your HLS classmates who did go to elite undergrad programs. I’m thinking of a study called “Catching Up Is Hard To Do” by a Vanderbilt economist who teaches at their law and business schools.

              • Denverite

                Depends on the undergrad degree and school. A non-STEM from a non-Ivy or Ivy equivalent could get into HLS with good enough grades and LSAT. She probably couldn’t get a job at a big consulting firm or i-bank.

    • CP

      College in general being seen as a luxury good also explains the apathy over the tuition racket. Oh, well, it’s all white people problems, and if those privileged brats didn’t want to get gouged, they should’ve just never gone to college.

      • NewishLawyer

        Isn’t this a whole subset of libertarian/conservative thought? Most Americans don’t have a college degree, most people who attend college are middle class and above, therefore why should the masses subsidize the already wealthy? I think this is wrong but it is one of their more successful gutting arguments. This applies to institutions like libraries, museums, etc. as well. Plus there seems to be an issue of solution differences. I think everyone believes college is too expensive. The liberal solution is to make it more affordable. The conservative solution is to end subsidized college loans and encourage non-college paths because that is a bone to their anti-intellectual side that lives smearing at art history majors.

        • CP

          I think it’s wrong most of all because of who it is that that tuition assistance hurts the most. Middle class families can usually offer at least some assistance (I was on my own for grad school, for example, but not undergrad). The people who end up saddled with the most obscene amounts of debts will be the people who are smart enough to get in but whose families have no money to help with.

          (Well, either obscene amounts of debt, or… “Work at McDonalds, ya deadbeat loser! You obviously weren’t smart enough to go to college!”)

          Which turns the “most people who attend middle class are already wealthy” thing into a self-fulfilling prophecy – who cares about college tuition because only the more fortunate go there, and only the more fortunate go there because no one cares enough to make it affordable. (The barrier for what constitutes “more fortunate” will continue to rise).

    • Joshua

      If you get admitted to Harvard Law, you might as well spend the extra money just because the school you go to is so important when it comes to this particular profession. And the thing is, Harvard Law isn’t that much more expensive than everybody else. Friggin’ Cooley is what, $45,000 a year? So really we’re talking about a really really high floor. There’s no question that HLS is worth it based on that.

  • Murc

    and X, and the Boomers, who contrary to popular legend paid vastly more for higher ed than their parents did

    … wait, really? Were people in the 30s and 40s being paid money to attend to college? Because that’s the only real way I can see it getting cheaper. A lot of boomers paid essentially nothing for their higher educations.

    • Warren Terra

      A lot of boomers paid essentially nothing for their higher educations.

      Not just boomers. When I started at the University of Washington at the beginning of the 90s, a full generation after the boomers, tuition was under $2000 a year. People worked in the summer in unskilled if unpleasant jobs and made enough to cover tuition and living costs for the rest of the year.

      • MacK

        I managed to do it, well most of it, for law school in the 90s – well summer plus well over 20hrs a week clerking in a firm (on $25 per hour, which a contract lawyer 25 years later would be lucky to get.)

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          I saw a contract lawyer cattle call on Indeed about a month ago that offered $19/hour in Boston, 3rd most expensive city in the US and home to a half dozen law schools that all sticker well over $200,000. Actually, if you finance your living expenses and consider the interest building while in law school, someone paying sticker at HLS these days will realistically owe $300,000 or more even if they have no undergraduate loans.

      • Joshua

        When I started at UCLA in the early 2000s, it was around $1500 a quarter for in-state students. You can’t exactly work a summer job to pay that but you can certainly get a nice chunk, and $4500 a year for a world-class education is pretty great! It’s tripled and then some since then.

        The crazy CA right, led by the Governator, absolutely destroyed the affordability of that system.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Maybe Paul means the last half (or last third?) of the Baby Boom generation? At least the last quarter would have been starting college (if they went) in the last 1970s. I can well believe that college tuitions increased strikingly then.

      • Murc

        That’s when my dad went to college and med school, and if anything that was an even better time to go to college, because he completed his undergrad work right before that inflation spike hit, which cut his debt load by a lot.

        • Ahuitzotl

          ?? The inflation spike hit first in 1974/5

      • erick

        Early Gen X here. College from 84-88. Tuition for a state school in Washington was $530 per trimester IIRC, my rent in an on campus apt was $180 per month. Minimum wage was $4.75 I think. I worked 12 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summers. I graduated with only $5k loan debt. The only reason I took the full 10 years to pay it off was the interest rate was so low

    • rea

      A large number of the students in the late 40s–early 50s were veterans, whose education was being paid for by the federal government.

      Those who graduated in the late 70s (like me) could get loans on much better terms than available nowadays, and tuition was much cheaper. (My law school was funded by government loans at 4%–inflation then went into double digits, so I was, in effect, making a profit on my student loans)

    • Paul Campos

      See edit for some suggestive data.

      • Murc

        Interesting. This would seem to imply that the reason college seemed so affordable to boomers is mostly an effect of widespread postwar prosperity than college being especially cheap.

        • Paul Campos

          Again I don’t have numbers, but my impression from having studied this general topic is that there was actually quite a lot of organized protest on college campuses against rising tuition in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s something that’s been forgotten in the context of the protests of that era.

          • Lee Rudolph

            There certainly was at MIT in the first half of the 1970s.

  • Thom

    What explains the lower rate of increase at Berkeley?

    • Crusty

      Commie liberals at the people’s republic law school.

      • Thom

        Of course!

        I think Warren answers it below–Berkeley tuition was abnormally high at the start of the period.

  • Warren Terra

    Everybody among the elites (other than Berkeley) keeps raising tuition every year far faster than inflation

    According to your chart, this is far too kind to Berkeley – they were among the very most expensive schools listed in 2012, so if in recent years they’ve raised tuition more moderately than their peers, they’re still not going to be charging bargain rates.

    More generally, speaking as someone relatively ignorant of the fine points of ranking law schools, the prices of some of the schools make no sense, strictly relative to each other. If we were in some way pricing on quality/fame/opportunities surely the travesty wouldn’t be Harvard charging $51K (or $60K) but Michigan charging the same? Or Duke, or Cornell, or UVA? I’m sure they’re all fine schools, but they’re not remotely as renowned as Hahvahd Lah to this layperson, and I’d bet the same is at least somewhat true within the profession. Also, I’m guessing the cost of living is higher in Cambridge than in Ithaca, or in Ann Arbor; that’s somewhat separate (it’s on top of tuition), but it affects the cost of running the school an hence tuition costs.

    Harvard’s law school — the law school mind you, not the university — is reputed to have an endowment of around two billion dollars currently. That means it throws off about $90 million per year in expendable income.

    Note Harvard Law apparently has fewer than 1750 students enrolled, so your hypothecated endowment income exceeds tuition paid.

    • Funkhauser

      The price quoted is out-of-state tuition at Berkeley. On the other hand, being a California resident only gets one a 7.7% discount, which is not very much.

      • Enzo Gorlomi

        In fact, after their new tuition increases, the differential between in-state and out-of-state tuition is now even smaller at Berkeley- $54,000 in-state and $58,000 for out-of-state (6.9%).

    • T.E. Shaw

      Campos listed the traditional “elite” law schools. While it’s true that there are subtiers here (Yale, Harvard, and Stanford are above the rest, Cornell and Georgetown bring up the rear), the drop off in job prospects after these schools is much more significant than the relative differences between them. The real travesty is the way this stuff trickles down to schools like American (51k a year) and the bottom-of-the-barrel schools like Charlotte (40k a year).

      And hey, at least at UVA and Duke you get a lower cost of living to help ease a bit of the sticker shock. Look at Columbia, which also doesn’t have Harvard’s cache, but charges 4k more a year and requires you to pay rent in NYC.

      • Lee Rudolph

        And hey, at least at UVA and Duke you get a lower cost of living to help ease a bit of the sticker shock.

        On the one hand, the cost of living in Virginia and North Carolina is lower. On the other hand, you’re living in Virginia or North Carolina.

        • T.E. Shaw

          You could do a heckuva lot worse than spend three years as a student in Charlottesville or Raleigh-Durham.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Some experience (not a lot, but too much) has convinced me that I’m highly allergic to Southern Culture—in particular (but very much on point), to Southern Frat Culture. Nor would I really like the (physical) climate there (for several decades I visited a former colleague in Athens, GA, for a week or so every couple of years; no matter what the season, I invariable returned home physically sick with one minor malady or another).

            At least both of them are within striking distance of salt water (and not in Utah).

          • Katya

            Having spent more than three years as a student in Charlottesville, I have to agree. It’s beautiful, there’s great food, at least three fantastic used-book stores, and a great running shop. Lots of hiking and wineries in close proximity. And I think I paid $200/month to share a big house in walking distance to campus with three other people.

            The big downside? Allergies. Damn Virginia pollen.

    • AB

      Duke is tainted by Richard Nixon.

      • skate

        The only reason I had heard of the Duke law school.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      “As of February 2016, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Cambridge, MA is $2702. One bedroom apartments in Cambridge rent for $2293 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $2820. “

      And per Wiki, HLS has 560 students per class but an overall enrollment of 1990, suggesting large numbers of LLM & SJD students and/or dual enrollment with HBS and elsewhere.

  • slothrop

    What is the rate for Colorado?

    • Paul Campos

      A few troublemakers on the faculty have managed to get tuition frozen for the past four years.

  • Nobdy

    What’re you going to do? Go to Northwestern to save $7,000 a year? Once you reach these massive tuitions it all kind of seems like play money anyway, and many people make the calculation that having Harvard on your diploma for the next 40 years of your career is worth the $21,000 difference in tuition.

    That’s probably true.

    Once you’re enrolled you don’t feel like you have any leverage, and the tuition increases feel reasonably modest on a year to year basis. The administrations of most law schools aren’t particularly responsive to students, and law students are extremely busy anyway so there’s no real constituency to complain about tuition for incoming classes.

    What are the students supposed to do, exactly?

    One thing you ignore in your calculation of financial aid is Harvard’s very generous (compared to most) Low Income Protection Plan. It’s significantly better than most and it works even for students in private practice.

    Many students likely calculate that the insurance it provides if they can’t get or keep a high paying job is worth the additional nominal tuition.

  • I just don’t understand the huge inflation of tuition and fees costs for higher education. I went to Haverford, a pretty well-ranked private college, over 40 years ago. It cost about $3,000 per year for everything in 1970, which would be around $18,000 in today’s dollars. But tuition and fees there are more than $50,000 per year now. Why on earth is that?

    Then I went to a private medical school (Mayo) and paid around $3,000 per year for that. It now also costs over $50,000 per year. Yet Mayo has an endowment in the range of Harvard’s — nobody is quite sure how big it is because they guard that data. They could easily charge less. They could even charge nothing and not lose much. But they don’t. They want their fifty grand per student per year. Again, why is that? It makes no sense.

    Is it all just that people only value what they pay a lot of money for? A Thorstein Veblen effect?

    • Cheap Wino

      “Why on earth is that?”

      It’s the inevitable result of colleges and universities being “run like a business” which was the only way to solve whatever education problems we were supposedly having 30 years ago. Naturally those “problems” were solved by multiplying the potential for grift, i.e., run like a business.

    • Lee Rudolph

      Is it all just that people only value what they pay a lot of money for? A Thorstein Veblen effect?

      Even if it is, why the fuck should Harvard or Haverford CARE how the generality of potential customersstudents value them? As long as their faculty are very good, and know they’re very good, and are paid like they’re very good, and in addition enough very good potential students realize that despite the low cost Harvard and Haverford are very good, they’ll easily be able to maintain the excellence of their faculties and their graduates.

      Rice University (then Rice Institute) was fucking free until 1965 or so, and was widely recognized as very good.

      If there’s a Veblen Good effect here, my hypothesis is that it began with the trustees (or, as Harvard charmingly calls them, Overseers). Fuck’em.

      [ETA: This hypothesis is consistent with Cheap Wino’s explanation.]

      • Indeed, it’d be pretty easy to turn it around so that free tuition was another component of the selectivity and exclusivity: “We only admit people who merit a full scholarship.”

        Most of the spending would shift to prep. Indeed, a ton of money is currently spent on prep and distinguishing markers on applications are increasingly expensive.

        If they wanted to be good *and* fair, they’d adopt a score/grade threshold + random selection + free/cheap tuition on a simple sliding scale.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Cooper Union just started charging tuition in the last year or two. Why? Because the new administration used debt financing to put up new construction that neither students nor faculty wanted, and then somehow subordinated or gave away their lifeblood – rental income from the Chrysler building – to some bank or another. There’s a great longform article on the beat-by-beat mistakes made, but I don’t feel like searching for it at the moment.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Here you go.

          Copper Union is an extreme case, but engaging in orgies of debt-financed construction and then using the inevitable results as a reason for austerity for everyone but high-level admins and their consultants is depressingly banal in higher ed.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            Thanks, the Fusion piece is exactly what I was thinking of.

            On a broader scale, I believe one of the ratings agencies pegged aggregate college/university-held debt at $205 billion while Jeff Selingo wrote in “College (Un)bound” that colleges & universities owed more than $300 billion in debt, double the amount they owed in 2000. If you divide that $300 billion in debt by the number of accredited institutions, you’ll come up with a figure considerably larger than the average college endowment.

            Higher ed has gone nuts with debt-financing this, that, and the other. I have seen breathtaking plans that chirpily depend on borrowing/floating more than their endowment or annual operating budget, no doubt with the expectation that they will be able to raise tuition unabated for decades to come in order to pay it back. To pick just one local example, Emerson College here in Boston has spent $500 million over the last several years buying and rehabbing real estate in the city, particularly theaters, plus another $80 million building a satellite campus in Los Angeles (it is a performing arts-centric college). Endowment? Just under $150 million. What??

        • Joshua

          Why the administration at Cooper Union is allowed to go anywhere without eggs being thrown at them, I have no idea. They destroyed one of this country’s great institutions in order to build an empire.

          • Lee Rudolph

            in order to build an empire.

            the vain hope of building an empire.

            But they did, at least, enrich themselves. Which is much of the point of empire-building.

          • Dennis Orphen

            I only throw certified organic free range brown eggs.

    • Rob in CT

      Again, why is that? It makes no sense.

      It makes perfect sense. It’s very profitable.

      They’ll charge more and more until people stop paying, or changes are forced upon them.

    • twbb

      Empire-building and jockeying for status by university administrators, abetted by a criminally incompetent federal loan system.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      To indirectly rebut some of the responses here, undergrad federal student lending is limited to $31k for dependent students and $57,500 for independent students. That’s for the entire degree, not per year. And those totals haven’t increased since 2008/09. So they only bear a small amount of responsibility for the most expensive undergraduate colleges and universities knocking on $70,000/year just a few years after they crashed through $60,000/year.

      • twbb

        Those still go into tuition-hiking decisions; “I think these families can pay $20,000 a year, so let’s add $57,500 divided by 4 to the yearly tuition.”

  • BoredJD

    Because it doesn’t have to do with the real value of the education as measured against the job opportunities available, it has to do with the consumer’s perception of the relative value of the education vis a vis other options.

    One of the more qualitative points that anti-reform advocates have been able to make, and that is really difficult to rebut, is the following: “Yeah, we’re price gouging you to pay for our cushy lifestyles. Yeah, we’re taking advantage of loopholes in the student loan system to charge exorbitant rates. Yeah, we’re not doing this because we’re providing any sort of different or better education than we got 40 years ago. But so fucking what? What else are you going to do? You need us.”

    This isn’t taking advantage of young people who have aspirations for a better life. It’s taking advantage of young people who are scared. And that’s a whole different emotion to prey on.

    • Murc

      “Yeah, we’re price gouging you to pay for our cushy lifestyles. Yeah, we’re taking advantage of loopholes in the student loan system to charge exorbitant rates. Yeah, we’re not doing this because we’re providing any sort of different or better education than we got 40 years ago. But so fucking what? What else are you going to do? You need us.”

      I’m not a violent person, but my instinctive reaction to this sort of reasoning is to beat the person using it to death with an iron bar and then ask the person standing next to them if they’d care to make a response to your rebuttal.

      • CP

        I’ve said before that watching the behavior of the rich and powerful over the past decade or so has made me progressively more and more sympathetic towards the French Revolution.

        At some point, you just hit a wall and decide that enough is goddamn enough.

        • Rob in CT

          “There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the “horrors of the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

          – Mark Twain

      • then ask the person standing next to them if they’d care to make a response to your rebuttal.

        Well, as long as you’re civil about it….


  • The Lorax

    Subsidies to higher ed aren’t decreasing? The percentage of operating budget paid for by taxpayers at state schools certainly is down significantly from 30 years ago.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      To my knowledge Paul has never answered these critiques.

      • Paul Campos

        The total amount of direct public subsidy for higher ed in America (federal and state) is now higher than it has ever been before, on a constant dollar/per student basis. See my Atlantic piece from last spring, to which I link in the OP. The NYT piece was looking only at state appropriations to public colleges and universities (including community colleges, contrary to the criticisms in the IHE article), which are only part of the picture.

        The decline in state subsidies on a per capita real dollar basis as a percentage of operating budgets is almost wholly a product of the increases in those budgets, in real dollars, rather than in any decline in real dollar state subsidies.

        • bobbyhurley

          Step 1: Create own denominator (budget)
          Step 2: Plug in numerator (appropriations)
          Step 3: Exclaim: “Look at that number!”
          Step 4: Enjoy

    • NewishLawyer

      This is true. In contrast a good chunk of state budgets now goes to K-12 education and Medicare spending. Lots of colleges have accepted less state funding in return for greater autonomy.

  • paul1970

    Paul has a real story to tell, but the headline number is a bit apples-to-oranges. The fact that prices have risen ahead of inflation shows that there has been a real cost increase. But for any given real annual cost increase, this will be a large multiple of inflation when inflation is low, and a small multiple of inflation when inflation is high; the difference between the nominal cost increase and the inflation rate is what’s interesting, not the ratio. e.g. if inflation = 0.1%, real cost increase = 1.9%, nominal cost increase = 2.0%, then the nominal cost is rising at 2000% of the inflation rate. But if inflation = 10%, real cost increase = 5%, nominal cost increase = 15%, then the nominal cost increase is only 50% more than the inflation rate, although in fact inflation-adjusted costs are rising over twice as fast.

  • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

    I entered one of H/Y/S in 2012 and graduated last year. There is definitely a bubble over debt, a sense that things will work themselves out because the school was so obviously the right choice. I sensed no outrage, much less an organizing spirit, over tuition.

    Many (most?) students admitted to these schools likely got full-ride offers to other quality schools, or at least such significant tuition discounts that the lower-ranked school was probably the better economic choice. But people certainly chase that bubble quality.

  • LeeEsq

    People accept these things without protest for many reasons. There have always been many people who thought the best response to injustices great and small was to keep a low profile and survive the best you can. Not everybody gets motivated to reform or revolution. Some people just accept these things as the way of the world.

    Other people want power, status, and wealth more than comfort. They aren’t going to do anything to imperil the group they want to join.

    A decent percentage of Harvard or other attendees of elite schools are probably having their education paid in full by their parents or through trusts. They don’t have to worry about debt and the parents might be wealthy enough to see the price tag as annoying rather than a hit.

  • BoredJD

    We’re already past the point when the middle class can no longer beg, borrow, or steal enough money for a “decent” college education. We won’t see real change until it starts hitting the upper middle class.

  • NewishLawyer

    Question: Are the HYPS schools of the world more or less likely to have more rich kids who graduate without debt than more modestly ranked schools?

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Yes. HYPS undergrad all have similar financial aid policies, and they all peter out around a household income of $200k, with plenty of caveats for multiple children in college or too many assets being tied up or whatever. $200k is about the top 3% or 3.5% of household income in the US. Per their own financial aid websites, between 40% and 50% of students at these schools receive no financial aid, so the implication is that 40% to 50% of incoming HYPS students come from household incomes north of $200k. Frankly, these percentages are not that far removed from the stats Jerome Karabel reveals about the HYP of the 1930’s through 1960’s, when they made no secret about being de facto finishing schools for the BosWash corridor aristocracy.

      Thomas Piketty talks about American higher ed for a few pages in Capital in the 21st Century, and he pegged the average (not median) Harvard student’s household income as $450k/year.

      To put it another way, per Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep, nearly 1 in 4 students at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton come from just 100 of the nation’s >37,000 high schools – and 94 of those high schools are private/prep/boarding schools.

      • AMK

        “When are American students and their families going to rebel against this nonsense”

        Well here’s your answer then. When the average Harvard student’s household income is $450K/year, $60K/year tuition looks perfectly reasonable. It’s like wondering why there isn’t more outrage about price inflation on the Maserati showroom floor. And Maserati doesn’t intensely publicize scholarship programs to make everyone feel good when they’re driving one.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          To its credit, Harvard does actually have very good financial aid. Even with nearly half of its undergrads paying sticker, the average net price (per IPEDS) is just $16k. There are plenty of institutions around Boston with an average net price nearly twice as high, including at universities that were founded with the express purpose of educating the area’s working classes.

          Your Maserati quip reminded me of this recent Boston Globe article about international college kids in Boston getting together to drive their Lamborghinis and Audi R8s around.

          • AMK

            The foreign princelings where I went to school had their own supercar club as well. The first place President Trump should deploy his deportation force is higher education.

            But to extend the car analogy, the issue is of course that the car market actually works for everyone: if I can’t afford a Maserati, I can find a Camry that costs a tenth as much and works just as well on the road. If it were like higher ed, the Camry would cost 90% of what the Maserati cost, and break down a day after I took it home.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Not sure where to post it, so this thread might do: Lawrence Lessig popped up on the radar at a secret meeting of the Stonecutters GOP elite.


  • Crusty

    I said something like this in an earlier reply, but I think at some point, just raising and raising tuition will hurt* Harvard in this sense- the people applying to Harvard have options. If someone is dead set on being a lawyer, then maybe they’ll pay to go to Harvard, but if someone has the credentials to be admitted to Harvard, they probably have other options that will start to look more and more attractive. The effect will be more pernicious at lower ranked schools. I’ll pick BU for example. Nothing wrong with BU in particular, but coming out of college, the career options for someone who can get into BU law school, but nowhere better, aren’t necessarily that rosy. Not to say they’re condemned to never finding meaningful employment, but its just a less defined and tougher path. But enrolling at BU LAw will appear to them and their parents as a more secure path to a respectable job with a desk and a salary to pay for a nice suburban life. And, BU, to show said student and his parents that it is just as good a school as Harvard, will charge as much as Harvard.

    *It won’t actually hurt Harvard because there will be an endless supply of students to take the place of those who wisely decide to pursue another option.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Speaking of tuition increases, Professor Campos, you had a graph here on LGM within the last few months that showed law school tuition growth in real dollars from the late 1980’s or so until the present. I was quite struck by it, because there was no appreciable change in the rate of increase after GradPLUS came along in 2006, which at the very least suggests that pretty much every law student in the pre-GradPLUS era had no trouble getting private loans to cover everything graduate Stafford loans did not. Which in turn suggests that just turning off the GradPLUS spigot will not cause law school tuition to crash, particularly considering that aside from 2005-06, those private loans were still dischargeable in bankruptcy and now they are not.

  • Crusty

    There’s a cycle here. You need to go to a good school like Harvard to be able to get a good job.* Why get a good job? To pay off your loans. Why take out loans to go to school? To get a good job. Something has to outweigh something else. The pay available to the recent grad has to be high enough to justify paying the tuition in the first instance. The benefits of having that degree eventually have to be more than just that having the degree allows you to pay for the degree. At that point, you’d at least be breaking even, not getting the degree.

    *For purposes of this discussion good = pays well.

  • isurewould

    “When are American students and their families going to rebel against this nonsense?”

    Harvard increases its tuition every year for the same reason a dog licks its testicles. . . it can. Average American students and their families have no say.

    As long as Harvard is proclaimed by Academia to be the “best of the best” everyone who strives to be “the best” will apply to get in. It subsidizes a certain portion its student body to fight claims that it is not a school only for the economic elite, but with the US population growing as fast as it is, there will be no shortage of brilliant rich kids. In 1930 the US population was 123 million; in 1970 it was 203 million; in 2010 it was 307 million. In the last 90 years there are still about 14 elite law schools with roughly the same number of students. In the last 90 years, with things like subsidized tuition (GI Bill, free/inexpensive state secondary and undergrad education, etc.) and the explosion of credit financing, the numbers of people who see Harvard as a viable alternative have also increased.

    There are likely enough kids applying who meet the minimum entry standards that the admissions office can pick and choose. For these prospective students, the cost of being considered “the best” is not a factor.

    The lower ranked schools have had difficulties attracting students with credentials that it makes them likely to pass the bar, but the allure of the “golden ticket” is irresistible despite the clear evidence that the odds of winning it, in most cases, are slim-to-none. Nevertheless, cost is no option for the snowflakes as well. And as long as there is no “academic means testing” to apply for credit, the lower ranked schools can raise tuition too. And by not raising tuition, these institutions would be admitting that their programs are not as competitive. . . .

    For at least the lower ranked schools, removing “free money” and enforcing minimum standards for accredited law schools would do much to eradicate the bubble market for legal education which closely resembles the 2007-2008 real estate market.

  • Here’s a suggestion. If you are lucky enough to be a graduate of one of these bloated network mills, you will get regularly dunned by the alumni office with appeals for yet more money for the endowment. Reply asking instead for a dividend from the latter. Companies flush with cash return it to shareholders. Universities with more cash than they need should distribute it to their current and former students. It was supplied for their benefit, no?

    • Barry_D

      I like this. And it’s more true since it’s pretty frikkin’ clear that at many schools, your donations will be used for further enriching the lives of the stop administrators.

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