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The $400,000 law school

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Columbia’s law school has passed a fiscal milestone: for the first time, its estimated cost of attendance for a nine-month academic year will be in six figures ($101,345 to be exact).

Some notes:

Where do these costs come from?

Tuition and mandatory fees make up $75,898 of the total.

Another $1,500 is in the form of “books,” which means law school casebooks, which means various public domain materials (cases and statutes), along with various crazy hypothetical scenarios thrown in by the authors, such as “Assume the election of a completely unqualified narcissistic sociopath to the presidency of the United States. What are the constitutional implications?”

This total also includes $1,582 per month for nine months of rent. I leave it to denizens of the Big Apple (yeah Jeets) to comment on how realistic this is or isn’t.

What percentage of Columbia law students are paying the full sticker price of attendance?

About half.

Does Columbia offer need-based financial aid?

No. (I mean they do in the sense that they’ll tell the government to loan you up to the entire cost of attendance, which counts as “financial aid,” but they won’t discount the price of attendance based on financial need. In this regard they are the same as every other law school other than Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Work your butt off to get into Yale, kids. It’s OK to like beer though.)

How much debt will an entering CLS student end up with?

Students who borrow the full cost of attendance will owe about $370,000 when the first loan payment comes due six months after graduation. (This sum is calculated by assuming average historical COA increases over the next three years, plus accruing loan interest and origination fees).

Note that these figures don’t include the 12 months of living expenses between matriculation and taking the bar exam that aren’t covered by the estimated COA, as that is based on a nine-month academic calendar.

How much did it cost to do this kind of thing when the heart of rock and roll the baby boom was moving through this and similar institutions?

Inflation-adjusted to constant dollars, about one quarter as much. For example, COA was about $27,000 per year, IN 2019 DOLLARS, to attend Penn’s law school in 1980. (Penn’s COA for this coming year is only $94,338 however).

Why is the world like this?

I recommend the following quick course in contemporary economics:

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