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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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