Home / General / How much did it and does it cost to educate law students? An interview with myself

How much did it and does it cost to educate law students? An interview with myself


A couple of days ago I wrote about the extraordinary increase in Stanford Law School’s revenues and operating budget over the past twenty years (Revenues have tripled in constant dollars, while expenditures have risen a more modest 174%, also in constant dollars.  The size of the student body has not changed).

Anyhoo, I’ve been digging around in various dusty financial documents (the old ones are sometimes literally dusty, while the newer ones tend to be PDF files, so they give off metaphorical dust).

I recently interviewed myself about this research.  (Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity).


How big was Harvard Law School’s operating budget in the year that current — so we’re not talking about the Middle Ages m’kay? — Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg matriculated? (She was one of nine women in the 1956-57 class of 552.  HLS had started admitting women six years earlier).

About $19.68 million.  Again, 2016 dollars yo.

How much was that per student?

Around $11,927.

Was that a lot in those days?

Compared to the average law school, yeah that was a lot.

How much did the average law school spend in operating costs per student back then?

Around $6,110 in 2016 dollars. (I keep repeating this because of the incredulity factor). This average includes Harvard, which by itself accounted for 8.92% of the collective operating budget ($220,590,000) of the 129 ABA law schools at that time, so that figure would be somewhat lower if you backed out HLS’s contribution to the total, which I’m too lazy to do at this moment, but I would appreciate it if someone would do for me, TIA.

How much did Harvard charge to attend its law school in 1956?

$7,765 (2016$)

How much did the average ABA law school charge?


How much did the average public law school charge in resident tuition?


What was the median income of American families 60 years ago?


What’s Harvard Law School’s operating budget now?

In fiscal year 2015-16, about $253 million.

How much is that per student?

$126,374.  TBF, Stanford is spending $135,011.

Is the educational experience of today’s Harvard Law School students better than that experienced by Ruth Bader Ginsberg et. al.?

For sure.  Ginsberg got asked by the dean how she could justify taking a spot that could have gone to a man, so yeah, I bet it’s a lot better in many ways, especially for women, Kenyan Muslims, etc.

Is it 959.56% better?

Probably not.

What about Ye Average Law School?  How much is it now spending per student?

$53,174. So only 770.28% more.

How much does Harvard charge these days?

$62,700.  Per year.

And your average law school for average law students?

$46,050 at private law schools, $25,870 for state residents at public institutions.

But aren’t only about 35% of law students paying full sticker these days?

Yes but that just means the poorer students are paying their richer classmates’ bills. And that ain’t right.

Did you know Mick Jagger had a kid a couple of months ago?

Yeah when he goes to law school he can tell people that poppa was a Rolling Stone.

How much is median family income in America today?


So how much more expensive has law school gotten relative to median family income since the notorious RBG’s student days?

Back then, HLS’s annual tuition was 18.4% of median family income.  Now it’s 88.7%. Average law school tuition was 9.9% of median family income.  Now private law school tuition is 65.1% of median family income.  Public law school tuition was 4.4% of median family income.  Now it’s 36.6%.

Will the revolution be televised?


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  • nocomment

    Wow, median income in 1957 was $42,177?

    • Gregor Sansa

      Again, 2016 dollars yo.

      That is not too surprising to me. Enough for a family of 5 or 6, but without much luxury.

    • Rob in CT

      Adjusted to 2016 dollars.

      • nocomment

        Quite right.

    • Hayden Arse

      I don’t have statistics, but I would be interested to see a comparison of two income families between 1957 and 2016. It is entirely possible that almost all of the increase in median family income is due to more wage earners per family, (I could be misunderstanding what is meant by “median family income”).

      • JustRuss

        “Median” is the spot in the middle, half of families have greater income and half less. My lazy-quick googling produced this: “In 1950 about one in three women participated in the labor force. By 1998, nearly three of every five women of working age were in the labor…”

        So yeah, most of that increase is due to an increase in the number of households with 2 wage earners instead of one. Hooray for the free market.

  • Gregor Sansa

    RBG is beautiful. (And that hasn’t changed)

    I know I know, male gaze. So fine, who’s that handsome guy next to her? He looks pretty good too.

    • Hogan

      I’m guessing it’s her husband, Martin Ginsburg.

      • njorl

        There you go, ruining my fantasy that she was married to Allen Ginsberg.

        • Hogan

          If you were really hardcore, it would be Ralph Ginzburg.

  • Rob in CT

    Quick question Paul: median family income != media household income, right? Last I checked median HH income in the US was in the low $50k range.

    ETA: ah, found it.


    • Paul Campos

      I’m using median family income from the Census data instead of household income ($56K in 2015) because the household income figures only go back to 1967.

      • Rob in CT

        Gotcha, ok.

        If the ratio was basically the same…

        $56,516/$70,697 = almost exactly 80%.

        80% of $42,177 = $33,741.60. So media HH income in 1956 was probably around $34k in 2016 dollars (though if the composition of a HH has changed enough, maybe not).

        ETA: I see it was $42k in 1967.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    But something something wage premium! The degree is, uh, versatile! You can do anything with a law degree that you can do without a law degree, presuming non-law employers will even interview you! Buy now before it’s more expensive! Be sure to ask about our new “SAT Scholar” alternate admissions program: if your SAT score was in the top 9/10 of testtakers, we will ignore your LSAT score!

    “If you can close your jaw, you can get into law!”

    • yet_another_lawyer

      Employers in all industries are really looking for entry level hires who understand the Rule in Shelley’s Case.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        And who spent three years writing one theory-based exam per semester per class. Employers don’t really want hard skills these days, do they?

      • N__B

        the Rule in Shelley’s Case.

        The monster will always turn on its creator.

        • Hogan

          I thought it was “never open your mouth till you know what the shot is.”

          • wjts

            “Don’t go boating on the Gulf of Spezia in a storm if you’re a shitty sailor.”

            • Is it DON’T sleep with your wife’s half-sister, or do?

              • wjts

                Don’t. No, wait, do. Sorry, I’m kind of scattered today – lots to do and only one cup of laudanum this morning.

  • yet_another_lawyer

    It’s less amenable to statistics, but I wonder if law school back then was equally useless. At least as of when I went, they took the position that it wasn’t for being able to pass the bar exam (that’s what BarBri is for!) or for learning how to practice (you really learn that in your first year on the job), so you were essentially paying all that money to be warehoused for three years, drink heavily, consort with undergrads, and fulfill the state’s requirement that only law school graduates can sit for the bar. To the extent that in the past law schools actually provided useful education, then not only are law schools charging more, they are also delivering less.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      I think that a generation ago, law degrees actually had varying degrees of versatility in the private sector, probably depending on perceived prestige. Hey, Mr. Shiny Professional Graduate Degree, have you ever thought about the corporate management/leadership track? But now that we graduate nearly 200,000 MBAs per year, that versatility has been lost.

    • Crusty

      On the usefulness of law school back in the day, I think the practice of law was less specialized. Even the larger Wall Street Firms didn’t have formal departments, so with less deep specialization, a new grad with a general idea of how to analyze a legal issue and do research was closer to what law firms wanted and what law firms were selling to their clients.

      • lizzie

        I have a theory, curious what other lawyers here think about it: The advent of the Internet age and electronic databases has led to legal bloat, in which both lawyers and courts are expected, and expect each other, to know about and cite a lot more legal authority. This has also led to the creeping legalification and complexity of everything, in which courts and practitioners are tempted to characterize more and more issues as questions of law rather than fact.

        Not sure if I’m explaining this very well, but this is my theory, which is mine.

        • PotemkinMetropolitanRegion

          As circuit courts push out tens of thousands of orders saying what fact pattern doesn’t plausibly raise claims or what fact pattern doesn’t present questions of material fact, it does sound like district courts may be “ossified” by precedent at some point.

    • N__B

      Pop__B, NYU law alum circa 1950, told me that he worked hard for his first year and spent two years sneaking off to the Polo Grounds.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    If you have a moment, Paul, could you ask yourself where the extra money is going?

    • yet_another_lawyer

      A lot of the people who work for a law school need the Office Space, “What would you say it is you DO here?” treatment.

      In particular, I want to have a long chat with the “Dean of Curriculum”… presiding over a curriculum that, proudly, consists primarily of teaching obsolete 18th century law, secondarily of whatever is trendy in the legal academy at the moment, and a veneer of “practical” classes where local practitioners come in to tell war stories. I don’t know what said Dean is paid, but I guarantee I could do that job for less.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Even more so in academia in general, where there seems to be an increasingly inverse relationship between “intelligibility and apparent importance of work responsibilities” and “salary.”

    • Aaron Morrow

      I’m not sure whether to place my bet on “top-level administration” or “ridiculously gold-plated infrastructure,” but based on Campos’s (and Loomis’s) earlier posts, I’ll put more money on the former.

      • sneezehonestly

        A big factor is the number of faculty. Teaching loads are way down at the top-level schools, and faculty/student ratios have tipped heavily toward faculty. Law schools don’t use adjuncts for core classes, so having lower teaching loads, more tenured faculty, and higher faculty salaries really adds up.

        • Teaching loads are down for several reasons. One is that at most law schools the faculty teach in the law school exclusively, and law school enrollments are down. Some law faculty are certainly qualified to teach undergraduates in other fields, but the ones who actually do it are hen’s teeth. Another reason is that faculty are expected to produce scholarship. The fact that legal scholarship bears almost no relationship to the way law is practiced is somehow overlooked. (Picture, in your mind’s eye, a judge settling down with a nice law review article. I just did, and it made me giggle.)

          • yet_another_lawyer

            Legal scholarship is perverse, in that useful articles are looked down on– “But that’s merely a doctrinal piece! It doesn’t even invoke seventh century Ottoman philosophers!”

            • wjts

              It would have been a neat trick if it had – the House of Osman and its eponymous empire were established in the very late 13th/very early 14th century.

              • Gregor Sansa

                Which makes it 9th century AH.

                • wjts


                • Hogan

                  I assume it’s After Hegira.

                  ETA: or rather Anno Hegira.

              • Scott P.

                As Gregor points out, “7th century” can mean something different in an Islamic context than in a European context.

                • yet_another_lawyer

                  Excellent, my sarcastic offhand comment has a claim to being TECHNICALLY correct. As we all know, that’s the best kind of correct.

                • wjts

                  D’oh. I somehow interpreted “AH” as a bowdlerized version of “AF”, hence my question mark. As I said above, I’ve only had the one cup of laudanum today and am therefore not firing on all cylinders.

            • rea

              Legal scholarship is perverse, in that useful articles are looked down on– “But that’s merely a doctrinal piece! It doesn’t even invoke seventh century Ottoman philosophers!

              And note–as is typical of law office history, the comment on the article overlooks the fact that there were no seventh century Ottoman philosophers–the Ottomans didn’t come along until the tail end of the 13th century.

              • Scott Lemieux

                When was the Ottoman/Moops invasion of the Iberian Peninsula happen?

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        A shocking amount of infrastructure is debt-financed these days. I can think of a university in Boston whose bond obligations are about 2.5x the size of its endowment.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    On a more serious note, IHE reported yesterday that GOP pols and conservative think-tanks are getting their ducks straight about getting rid of GradPLUS loans because obviously the Bennett Hypothesis is not only proven, but it is the only reason tuition goes up anywhere. Standard-fare neoliberalism.

    However, given how freely money is flowing these days, that private loans are nondischargeable and securitized, and that law schools jointly own their very own private student lender, I have very little doubt that virtually every law student will be able to fully finance their law school education privately, as was the case for decades before GradPLUS came about in 2006. Unfortunately there are no income-based repayment programs for private loans and deferral/forbearance options are at the discretion of the lender, so the end game is that virtually every grad who fails to find remunerative work quickly will default.

    The standard student loan payment for someone who went to the average private law school for $46k/year plus $20k living expenses, bar loans, average undergrad debt ($30k), and interest will be somewhere around $3000 per month or more, after taxes.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Unfortunately there are no income-based repayment programs for private loans and deferral/forbearance options are at the discretion of the lender, so the end game is that virtually every grad who fails to find remunerative work quickly will default.

      I’m surprised that private lenders don’t have some form of IBR. My practice lately includes a lot of lender-related litigation and while lenders obviously would prefer to get all their money, they have a very definite secondary preference of getting some money rather than getting no money.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        But 1) the loans are nondischargeable so the lenders will get something eventually except in cases of premature death and 2) the loans are securitized so ultimately the lenders don’t have to give a f*ck if the loans will be paid back or not. They sell the risk off their books ASAP.

      • Murc

        How does “getting no money” come about if the loan is non-dischargeable, tho?

        My brother works in debt collection, and he’s very blunt about this: if you aren’t making a very concerted effort to live off the grid and work under the table, you are super goddamn easy to find. If you’re in default on debt and haven’t been hunted down yet, it is only because the amount you owe isn’t considered enough to be worth bothering by whoever your creditor is, or they just haven’t gotten around to you yet. (Or that it is being tossed around from collector to collector and has fallen through the cracks.)

        Now, most debts you can crawl out from under by using bankruptcy if things get bad enough, which is (again, according to my brother) why most holders of debt will cheerfully accept some kind of plan; in fact they have people working for them who have very carefully calculated just how much of a persons monthly income you can demand of them before they start seriously considering bankruptcy.

        But if bankruptcy can’t clear your law school debt at all, in any way? There’s no incentive for a payment plan or IBR, is there? I mean… what’s the poor sap gonna do, go live in the woods? And we’re often talking about very large sums of money here. You track the poor guy to his various employers and slam down wage garnishment. What’s the downside?

    • Abbey Bartlet

      Presumably people who already have the money will be grandfathered in?

      • Abbey Bartlet

        She said eyeing her loans.

    • PaulB

      UN is wrong about the willingness of private lenders of any sort to be willing to step up and replace the government to make six figure loans for graduate education. Securitizing doesn’t eliminate the fact that somebody ultimately has to take the loss on an unpaid loan, and nondischargeable debt solves one problem for them but not the main issue of borrowers who simply do not have the income to service their debt. Having law schools own a private lender changes none of these realities.

      The fact that lenders were willing to fund mortgages ten years ago to anyone with a pulse doesn’t mean they do it today. The same will be true about large graduate student loans from programs that do not generate offsetting income streams for their students.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        “UN is wrong about the willingness of private lenders of any sort to be willing to step up and replace the government to make six figure loans for graduate education. ”

        Interesting, because plenty of law schools, good and bad, cost $50k to $60k per year before GradPLUS came about in 2006, and if anyone was ever turned down for full private lending to make the difference between the $20k annual graduate Stafford cap and those $60k/year pricetags, I sure haven’t heard or read about it. And before 2005 those loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy.

        Also Sallie Mae alone has increased private student lending originations a full 50% since just 2011. Nearly up to $10 billion in private lending per year now.

        But yeah, it’s just a coincidence that virtually all of the conservative think tanks and studies that denigrate the availability of GradPLUS loans were funded by private lenders or their foundations (like Lumina). Yup, all a big coincidence.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Also, “From 1989 to 2009, when college tuition rose by 71 percent, law school tuition shot up 317 percent.” New York Times, 2011.

        GradPLUS was invented in 2006 and private student loans were dischargeable until late 2005, meaning that virtually all of that growth occurred under the auspices of a majority private lending rubric. But yeah, I’m sure the private lenders that have been lobbying against GradPLUS for years will be more cautious this time.

        Did I mention that the ABA-accredited law schools jointly own the private student lender Access Group?

  • PSP

    And when they default, those bright shiny new lawyers (if licensed in NJ) will have their first ethics violation. Lucky Ducks.

  • sneezehonestly

    There shouldn’t be a period after “et” in “et al.”

    • yet_another_lawyer

      *promotes you to Third Associate Dean of Legal Writing*

  • Aaron Morrow

    I would appreciate it if someone would do for me

    Average LS operation budget per student = (Sum of all LS operation budget per student) / number of law schools
    Sum of all LS operation budget per student = Average LS operation budget per student * number of law schools $6,110 (FY16) * 129 = $788,190 (FY16)
    Sum of all LS, but Harvard, operation budget per student = $788,190 (FY16) – $11,927 (FY16) = $776,263 (FY16)
    Average non-Harvard LS operation budget per student = (Sum of all LS, but Harvard, operation budget per student) / (number of law schools – 1) = $776,263 (FY16) / 128 = $6,065 (FY16)

  • Jon_H11

    There’s a good blog post about the general explosion in costs generally in certain fields.(link at bottom)

    The increase in price of services relative to median income in the past half-century or so is really astounding.

    Since services in themselves have little capital cost, it doesn’t make sense that their price would increase unless the labor costs when up, i.e. teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. are getting paid more. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    The administration costs (I should say payouts) are the only possible culprits. I would love to see some actual numbers on this, but since the numbers are themselves compiled by administrators, I somehow doubt they’ll show the true grift.


    • Rob in CT

      Admin does seem like the most likely culprit.

      Re: labor costs, I have to think that our healthcare cost inflation problem has hit there too. It has everywhere else.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        I have seen estimates that university employee health care costs now account for about ten cents of every tuition dollar.

    • Rob in CT

      You know, I was aware generally of massive cost inflation in areas like infrastructure projects, education, healthcare… but when it’s all put together like that it’s still shocking.

      • Rob in CT

        OMG, our old friend Freddie shows up in the comments to complain about Campos (rather, specifically about Campos not using per-student state funding vs. total state funding).

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      Ah, I was checking if anyone had posted it before.

      There is also a follow up of the most interesting responses.

      • Jon_H11

        Thanks for that.

        But I truly have to shudder when my understanding of the situation leads to by and large the same diagnosis as John Cochrane.

        • Merkwürdigliebe

          Hey, no one group has a monopoly on being right all the time about everything. Push too far in any direction and you’ll eventually have to correct in the opposite.

    • njorl

      While I believe that administration costs are the biggest culprit, service jobs have increased in wages in the last few decades, while other jobs’ wages have decreased. Since 1980, public school teacher pay has increased about 25% adjusted for inflation, while worker pay in general has remained unchanged. That’s in spite of a serious, nationwide effort by conservatives to do everything in their power to reduce teacher pay.

      Teacher pay by year (you have to do your own inflation adjustment):

      All worker’s pay:

    • Paul Campos

      In law schools the biggest drivers by far have been the increased size of full-time faculty and the explosion in administrative staff. Per capita compensation has risen, but relatively speaking that’s been a much smaller factor.

      For example at my own school the operating budget has more than doubled in real terms in the past 20 years, while faculty compensation (salaries and benefits) is up by about 20%. The number of administrative staff (all levels) has exactly doubled in the past ten years alone.

      • mpowell

        I hope people don’t overlook this point. I know it feels better to blame the conservatives for this problem, but it really doesn’t work. It’s a major problem in our society now (not just legal education costs) and we need a real solution, not just that government pays for the increasing costs of all these things.

      • JustRuss

        Yeah, there’s a lot more to deal with these days. FERPA and ADA compliance, diversity initiatives, etc., all require resources that cost money. And yes, there’s a lot of redundant paper pushing.

    • Turkle

      I’m surprised that no one mentions exploding real estate costs among the drivers of rising costs of services.

      Sure, restaurants charge $14 for a cocktail in Manhattan, but you’d better believe that the landlord is getting most of the increased price. Here in NYC, property owners are perfectly comfortable blowing up an entire block’s worth of businesses if they feel they’re not getting their fair share, and there are little to no legal protections for small businesses.

      So much of rising costs of services are captured by the landlords and real estate speculators. I can’t say how much of that is true for universities. None? Some? All?

      • Hogan

        Universities are far more likely to be landlords than tenants.

      • JustRuss

        Most universities are non-profits and therefore, I believe, exempt from property taxes. I know the state U where I work doesn’t pay them, I assume the same is true for private not for profit universities.

  • NewishLawyer

    Semi-OT: The Atlantic had a downer of an article that the only thing that curbs inequality is some sort of grand catastrophe like the World Wars and the Great Depression or maybe the Black Death for a historical example.


    I think one of the reasons educational costs are so hard to control is that a lot of people agree that skyrocketing tuition is morally untenable but no one agrees with the solution.

    On another blog we were discussing the Magicians (TV show). I think the Magicians is one of the best depictions of life at SLAC and/or grad school (especially for a arts and humanities Masters of questionable economic utility) that I have ever seen. I spent my undergrad at a SLAC and have an MFA in theatre directing (a graduate degree of marginal economic utility). I was very lucky and able to do my MFA debt free. There is a lot not to like about grad school but in other ways it will probably be among the best years of my life. I was able to devote nearly all my time to studying and working on something that I loved a lot. There are a lot of theatre professionals and other artists who have day jobs. I theorized that one of the reasons people go for these degrees is because it does provide that kind of rare opportunity. They are also nerds who really like school.

    This never produces a good reaction among libertarians who talk about “opportunity costs” and accuse me of never thinking about the opportunity costs of my time in undergrad and grad school when I could have been out making money and increasing wealth. A lot of these libertarians are computer types. I am not a computer type and I just imagine myself as being miserably forced to go into IT or coding.

    I am not sure what cause this difference. My ideal solution to the college tuition crisis would be to lower costs dramatically so anyone who wants to attend grad school can get that respite from the world. I think it is the sign of a civilized society but this gets people accusing me of credentialism and formalism. Maybe I have some of that and maybe this is because Judaism never developed an anti-clerical stance where each person can study on their own and be a Master.

    And yes basically I am a nerd who really liked school and still has romantic day dreams of life on campus and in the stacks.

    • Rob in CT

      Semi-OT: The Atlantic had a downer of an article that the only thing that curbs inequality is some sort of grand catastrophe like the World Wars and the Great Depression or maybe the Black Death for a historical example.

      This does seem to be historically true. Mostly b/c a lot of wealth is destroyed, apparently.

      Secondary to that, there’s the reason Krugman came up with his “alien invasion” joke/idea about what it would take to pass a stimulus sufficient to respond to the financial panic of 2008-2009. Only then would we muster the will to go that big. Faced with anything less dire and nope, sorry, not happening.

      • ΧΤΠΔ

        Adrian Veidt was right.

      • Jon_H11

        There really needs to be a cultural change which accepts a notion of wealth saturation. There has to be a wealth cap as well as a safety net.

        The dynamics of wealth aggregation are positively reinforcing. Economic reward in our current system is proportional to risk bearing capacity, and risk bearing capacity is proportional to previous economic rewards, and there are hard thresholds which are difficult to pass, but once you do, you have escape velocity and functionally (relative to reasonable human needs and desires) infinite wealth.

        We need confiscatory taxes on both income and wealth at high levels. We could take the money and burn it and still be better off (just like after a war or plague), since prices are being inflated by the obscenely wealthy bidding them up.

        • NewishLawyer

          I don’t see wealth caps as really flying in the United States or any other country really because most people seem to want the opportunity to amass wealth and there is truth in the profit principle. Would anyone invent the Ipod or XBOX if there income was capped at 100,000 a year?

          How do you determine what is a reasonable wealth cap?

          • Jon_H11

            What we have now is obscene. I bet that few of the engineers who made the Ipod or Xbox make much more than $100,000 a year.

            The kind of cap we need could be set so high that no reasonable objection could exist to it. Right now the top income bracket for taxes is $400,000/year. Basically make the top marginal tax rate 99% at that level, no deductions and capital gains included.

            Cap wealth somewhere around $10-20 million. I don’t think they’ll be many sincere complaints that the only reason I put in 60 hrs a week is to get another $10 million after I’ve got $15 mil.

            • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

              I read that a hedge fund is demanding one of the major US railroads hire their preferred CEO for $300 million.

              Hell of a way to run a railroad.

            • Redwood Rhiadra

              What we have now is obscene. I bet that few of the engineers who made the Ipod or Xbox make much more than $100,000 a year.

              You would be utterly wrong. Six figures is pretty common for an experienced computer engineer.

              • Jon_H11

                From the BLS it looks like the median is around 110,000 for computer engineers, 90% about 170,000. So you’re right.

                But again, to address the actual problem you could set the confiscatory rates to kick in much higher. There is no one making $400,000 a year who is putting in an ounce more effort to make it $500,000. Perhaps professional athletes and stock brokers do, but that’s because they want a bigger number than the other guy, not because of the consumption gains.

    • Phil Koop

      Then those libertarians don’t really understand opportunity cost, or revealed preference for that matter. You could easily have replied that the opportunity cost of entering the work force would have been to forego your MFA.

    • Linnaeus

      To add to the downer Atlantic article, here’s Marc Levinson’s essay in Aeon arguing that the period from 1948-73 was a time of exceptional economic growth due to circumstances that cannot be repeated, and we’re on our way back to a “normal” economy:

      For much of the world, the Golden Age brought extraordinary prosperity. But it also brought unrealistic expectations about what governments can do to assure full employment, steady economic growth and rising living standards. These expectations still shape political life today. Between 1979 and 1982, citizens in one country after another threw out the leaders who stood for the welfare state and voted in a wave of more Right-wing politicians – Margaret Thatcher, Reagan, Helmut Kohl, Yasuhiro Nakasone and many others – who promised to tame big government and let market forces, lower tax rates and deregulation bring the good times back. Today, nearly 40 years on, voters are again turning to the Right, hoping that populist leaders will know how to make slow-growing economies great again.

      • N__B

        Sure those circumstances can be repeated. All we need is a war that destroys the economy of most industrialized nations.

        • postmodulator

          I take it back. Trump might actually make America great again. If we’re one of the ones that’s still around afterwards.

    • Lurking Canadian

      Semi-OT: The Atlantic had a downer of an article that the only thing that curbs inequality is some sort of grand catastrophe like the World Wars and the Great Depression or maybe the Black Death for a historical example.

      That’s basically Piketty’s argument as well.

    • I think there’s a difference between really liking studying, and really liking being told what to think and getting to know stuff ordinary people don’t. Some people online seem to like the idea of being studious and pleasing teachers rather than the idea of learning stuff. (The Internet definition of “nerd” among people 15-20 years younger than me seems to track this difference and still surprises me.) The Magicians always seems less interested in magic per se than in the idea of going to college like everyone else but getting a secret education the muggles can’t even dream about. Maybe people were objecting to the idea that art and literature are only for people with advanced degrees in the subjects. When I was in HS the English teachers would have scoffed at the idea that you needed an MFA.

      Maybe you’re discussing last night’s episode, I’m a week behind.

      • I’m also thinking of the books, which are not even the same as the TV show in broad outlines, except for most of the characters’ names, so might not be seeing what you are because I can’t help seeing the show as an interesting gloss on the real story.

      • NewishLawyer

        I’ve just started the book and am at the same point in the TV series. I noticed that in the book, the characters are undergrads while the TV show has them as grad students in their early to mid-20s. I guess this is why I see the SLAC and grad school aspects.

        There are plenty of artists who scoff at the MFA path to varying degrees of success.

        When I was applying to college, I applied to SLACs mainly and got into my top choice. I think I needed to go to an SLAC from an emotional and intellectual standpoint. I would have been lost in a huge university where many classes were large lectures. But it is very hard to convince people (besides fellow SLAC grads and my parents) that this is true. The general response seems to be “if you got into SLAC, you could have thrived at Large University X.”

        So there is a kind of elitism at being an SLAC grad and insiderness.

        I was never an overt teacher pleaser but I prefer going to a seminar and discussing things with a bunch of people including a professiorial head over self-study and I do that a lot to. There are book clubs but I find those usually dissolve because only half the group reads the book.

        • Yeah, the question I have though is “why magic?” The switch to grad school, letting Q and J even graduate HS successfully (which neither really does in the book), making them hipsters instead of Stuyvesant strivers, the changes to the other students, all reinforce a sense that the use of genre elements from Rowling and especially Lewis aren’t taken seriously as more than the idea that there’s a natural “elite”. The change from “everybody goes to college, but only some people go to the invisible college upstate” to “some people go to b-school and others to m-school” has the same effect.

          • NewishLawyer

            Q and J are still strivers in the TV series. They went to Columbia and Q was on a grad school interview for Princeton (interesting that they made him a philosophy major though). J was going to Yale for her MBA.

            I suspect part of the changes are for moralistic. It might have been too shocking to show the hedonism with students who are not allowed to drink legally even in the age of cable. Maybe I am being influenced by seeing the TV show first but I think having them as aimless college grads works too.

            There are plenty of people who apply to grad school young to avoid job searching (even though it is a job as was pointed out below).

    • wjts

      My ideal solution to the college tuition crisis would be to lower costs dramatically so anyone who wants to attend grad school can get that respite from the world…. And yes basically I am a nerd who really liked school and still has romantic day dreams of life on campus and in the stacks.

      I don’t know what it’s like in arts programs, but in academic disciplines, graduate school is not a “respite” from the world. A little less than half of graduate students suffer from some form of clinical depression; 10% report suicidal ideation. Maybe that’s not surprising: they’re immersed in a toxic, dysfunctional environment. In many programs (not mine so much), there’s a shitload of paranoia and competitiveness, because you’re competing with your fellow students for a seriously restricted number of teaching/research/support slots. You frequently find yourself trying to stretch your meager 8-month stipend to cover all your 12-month expenses. Maybe you have health insurance, maybe you don’t. Most universities have some sort of minimal counseling service available, which you’ll probably need because of the constant anxiety brought on by a persistent feeling of being set up to fail by opaque and seemingly-impossible standards. When it’s time to begin your research, depending on the discipline, you may find yourself trapped in a seemingly-endless series of grant proposals and rejections where the research project that you’ve cooked up – which is inextricably tied up in your personal identity and sense of self-worth – is torpedoed by a brief comment along the lines of, “Jenkins (1983) showed that this is wrong”. (The whole point of your research project, of course, is that it is Jenkins who was wrong. You explained why in your proposal and everything.) Along the way, you might also get to be a pawn in various departmental power games, like ones where your advisor Professor A doesn’t want you talking or working with Professor B, even though Professor B has the expertise or resources to help you figure out problems for which Professor A’s only solution is, “I don’t know. This is the kind of thing you need to figure out for yourself.” If you haven’t dropped out yet, you get to defend your dissertation, sometimes against two or three or even four mutually-incompatible critiques. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to do all this without accumulating any, or at least minimal, debt. The lived reality of “life on campus and in the stacks” is very different from the daydream.

      • Jordan

        Ya, I washed out of mine (at the abd stage, even at a very prestigious university), partly for the department politics type reasons you say. And also partly because I realized the night-shift psych hospital job I got to pay the rent payed *almost* as much as my likely first job would have (I was not going to be a high flyer), which would have been a 1 or 2 year non-guaranteed thing and meant moving to some crappy place. And then trying and hoping against in a few years.

        And they like they me at my psych-hospital job because I’m not a moron and competent. So I’m just going to get my RN, they’ll hire me directly (so avoiding a lot of early RN career crap) and pay for a decent amount of the tuition, and then after that probably earn more than I ever would have pursuing the crappy-academic route. Plus, maybe I save a life every now and then. Which is better on the consequentialist scale than I ever would have done on the academic route, probably.

      • NewishLawyer

        My phrasing was wrong. There are a lot of people who do wash out of grad school and a lot of mental health issues but this is what I was trying to get at and perhaps it is too romantic.

        I like being a lawyer and being part of the legal world. There was a lot of stress in grad school but there was also having your afternoon class on dramaturgy for Directors and Playwrights or your afternoon History of Directing class and there is always going to be a part of me that really enjoyed having this be my Wednesday afternoon or Thursday evening.

        I also have a lot of fond memories of just going to the stacks for research materials.

        • wjts

          Yeah, I was deliberately focusing on all the ways graduate school is an immiserating experience rather than an enriching one, ways that tend to get glossed over in a lot of discussions about higher education. I was also trying to push back against the idea that academia is somehow walled off from the “real world”: particularly in the early stages, you’re dealing with bills you can’t pay, job-related stresses, and assorted other problems that don’t disappear because your job involves making thin sections of mouse kidneys with shitty tools or translating difficult passages from Old Occitan rather than dealing with rusted lugnuts or misfiled purchase orders. (I swear there was a line in Higher Learning where Lawrence Fishburne’s character rhetorically asks something like, “Why is academia never considered part of the ‘real world’?” but the internet tells me I’m wrong.)

          There are positives, of course. I’ve gotten to do things that a lot of people never do (in a good and interesting way) and, like you, will always fondly remember spending eight months’ worth of Tuesday and Thursday evenings learning how to translate things from French. But ultimately, graduate school is a job, more or less, and that means, like every other job, it’s not all fun and games and isn’t really an escape from the “real world”.

          • Linnaeus

            I will cosign all of this. What’s more, grad school for many people isn’t only a job because of the research that you do, but because there are often other commitments attached to it, e.g., teaching.

          • NewishLawyer

            Fair. There was not a TA component to my MFA program. My grad school jobs were off campus and my employers were very accommodating to my schedule as long as I got my work done.

            My grad school started a BFA program a few years after I left.

            I do consider academia to be part of the real world but there is still something of a bubble effect, at least to me. That bubble being that most people are not going to look at you weird for your reading habits and you might strike up some interesting conversations and friendships. In the real world, it is harder to find co-workers who want to talk about Chekhov’s Three Sisters or Brechtian dramatic theories or French New Wave cinema. Even the too cool for school kids have their interests.

            Then again, I am always the weirdo in offices who doesn’t watch much TV and/or sports.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Law students matriculate with an ~8% depression rate, same as the adult population, and start their 3L year with a 40% depression rate – which holds steady in the profession itself.

        Of course one of the usual law school apologists risibly tried to claim that this was all genetics so law schools can’t be blamed because those people would all be depressed anyhow and environmental/situational causes of depression, uh, don’t exist or something. It’s a weird variation of that hideous Bell Curve. Never mind that only 40% of depression cases are linked to genetics. If 40% of the 8% of the adult population with depression has the genetic propensity for depression but 100% of the 40% of 3Ls and lawyers who have depression have the genetic predisposition, that means that law students are about 1,100 times more likely to have the genetic propensity than the adult population, year after year. Uh huh. Let me show you this bridge I have for sale…

  • Bloix

    I graduated from YLS in 1984. Tuition in the early 1980s was about $9,000 per year in current dollars. That’s about $26,000 in 2016 dollars. Tuition is now about $60,000. For the last 35 years at least, Yale has been relentlessly raising tuition by about 2.5% above the rate of inflation every single year. This doesn’t happen by accident. I feel very sure that annual increases of 2-3% in real terms are school policy at every elite school.

  • so it costs $$$ to go to a school where you end up repp’ing the 1%.

    F them.

    • Crusty

      I don’t know if you’re deliberately obtuse or what, but the point is that the cost becomes prohibitive for a so-called middle class person to pursue a profession that on paper, should be open to all. You know, American dream and all that shit.

    • Abbey Bartlet

      I don’t have data at hand, but most lawyers are not repping the 1%.

      Certainly those of us who want to go into government or public interest are not going to be 1%ing shit.

  • ajay

    That was a short play entitled “Paul Campos Has Just Discovered Baumol’s Cost Disease”.

    I wonder how tuition for other degrees has changed over the same period.

  • gmoot

    Maybe a little bit of a nit, but I always get a bit annoyed by comparisons that are based on the assumption that tuition today should be close to tuition back than after applying CPI-U. The cost of providing benefits to employees — specifically, health insurance — has risen much faster than inflation, and law schools (perhaps even more than the universities in which most reside) are incredibly labor-intensive organizations.

    A more reasonable baseline expectation is that law school budgets would increase each year by some number that’s greater than inflation but less than the annual average growth in health insurance premiums. Tuition would similarly increase more than inflation, even in the absence of growth in the number or base salaries of personnel or in non-labor expenditures.

    • Bloix

      I don’t think law schools are particularly labor-intensive. Classes are large, there are few seminars, courses are taught from casebooks, the Socratic method does not require extensive lecture preparation, there is little grading (most classes have no papers and only one exam), and activities (law reviews, moot court, and mock trial) are student-run. My experience was that I had much more interaction with professors as an undergraduate than as a law student.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        I think gmoot means that labor costs make up almost all of the variable costs, which is almost but not quite the meaning of labor intensive (which is a high ratio of labor to output).

  • You seek admission in these so called elite schools so you can work for a Tier (bullshit) law firm , serve the 1% as mercenaries and make sure they get to steal more of the rest of our lives ?

    Well F you. Go to a state school , serve actual people, be part of the resistance , not part of the oligarchs.

    • Crusty

      You’re still a turd.

    • Hogan

      Go to a state school

      I would normally suggest reading the post before commenting, but in your case it probably wouldn’t help.

      • Crusty

        Not only does he not read, he also seems to be unfamiliar with the career of one Barrack Obama.

        • One exception–how clever.

          • Crusty

            Not very bright.

    • L2P

      UCLA Law fees when I went to school: $2500/Semester

      UCLA Law fees today: $42,000/year

      You were saying?

    • yet_another_lawyer

      Is that really your site when I click through your name? If so, your state school alma matter (Lousiana State University) lists an “average yearly cost of attendance” of $46K for residents (more for non-residents). https://www.law.lsu.edu/admissions/tuition-fees-for-new-students/

      And that’s before you graduate and need thousands more for barbri because, of course, law school does not prepare you to pass the bar exam. I cannot wait until I go to LSU, graduate $200K in debt after bar loans and accrued interest, then immediately become part of the “Resistance.”

  • You can always tell a Harvard man , you just can’t tell him much.

  • The lie is that any law student will have a job after they finish. Most do not. Sometimes reality bites.

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