Sunday, January 10, 2010

University of Michigan Tuition History v. Median Household Income Tables

The issue before this Court is whether the increase in the University of Michigan’s law school tuition accurately reflects changes in the median household income.

Here is the link to Historical Household Income Tables, as provided by the Census Bureau. This has been labeled Exhibit “A”:

Here is a document showing law school tuition history at the University of Michigan. A PDF file is attached hereto as Exhibit “B”, and is incorporated herein by reference:

In 1980, the median household income was $17,170. In-state tuition at the University of Michigan was $2008. This amount would have represented about 11.7% of the median family's income.

By 1993-94, in-state tuition at said school was $12,476; the median household income in the U.S. for 1993 was listed as $31,241. Tuition at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor represented 39.9 percent of a median household income in 1993.

For the 2007-08 school year, in-state tuition at the same school was $38,069; the median household income, for the year 2007, was listed at $50,233. In-state tuition at this school would have devoured 75.8% of the median household's income in 2007.

As you can see from these documents, tuition at Michigan’s law school has spiraled out of control. The school is currently ranked 9th by the magnanimous US News & World Report.

It is true that this is one of the most prestigious law schools in the United States. It is consistently ranked in the top 10 law schools by USN&WR. The school can afford to be very selective in its admissions process. However, it is an undeniable fact that in the span of roughly 27 years, law school tuition at this public university went from representing 11.7 percent of the median household income to consuming more than 75% of the median household income.

Thus, in-state tuition at the University of Michigan’s law school has increased nearly 6.5 times faster than the median U.S. household income. How in the hell can anyone support such a system?!? How can anyone argue that this is the “free market at work”? Especially, when the demand has been brought about largely by public financing, i.e. federally-backed student loans?!

Remember, we are talking about a public university. According to the ABA, the rate of tuition has gone up faster at private ABA-accredited law schools than it has at the public law schools.

For those of you who want to see a comparison using the rate of inflation, $2008 in 1980 would have equaled $4991.56 in 2007. This means that in-state tuition at Michigan Law is currently 7.62 times higher than it would be, had it grown at the rate of inflation, i.e. $38,069/$4991.56.

Taking all of the above-listed factors into account, the Court of Common Sense finds the following: (1) a top-flight public law school has increased its tuition at a much higher rate than the increase in the median household income, in this country; (2) in-state tuition at this school has grown at a MUCH higher clip than the rate of inflation; (3) as a result, many of its students will graduate with more than $120,000 from three years at this public “institution of higher learning”; and (4) so long as the Department of Education continues to federally back loans from the student lending cartel, tuition will continue to increase at a wild rate.*

*This is not endemic to elite law schools. However, this is the only tuition history chart I could find from an ABA-accredited law school.


  1. I don't understand what you want? Would you prefer that only upper-middle class people and aristocrats obtain higher education, or do you want University to be free for everyone, which means an enormous increase in taxes and a fight for the few available seats anywhere that will make the current completion for top law schools seem like a love-in.

    The system we have works in the sense that it allows virtually everyone to attend college without shifting a politically unacceptable amount of the cost to taxpayers.

    I don't think you would argue that it is better to have a choice and a chance, than no choice and no chance. It doesn't mean there won't be victims, when you build a road, you know people are going to die, but it's still worth it.

    If you got crushed, that sucks for you, but it doesn't mean there is a better alternative than gov't funded student loans.

  2. Government-funded student loans aren't the problem. It's the government-funded student loans that are blindly doled out without regard to the effectiveness of the utility of those loans, coupled with the lack of consumer protection in the form of bankruptcy (which would keep tuition rates down), that are the problems.

    Let's take a Small Business Administration loan, which is also government-backed. Are banks lending those without taking steps to make educated guesses that potential debtors will be engaging in business activity that will allow them to pay those loans back? Absolutely not! Viable business plans must be submitted and approved before SBA loans are approved - why should a viable plan not be submitted before approving student loans?

  3. There is a better alternative.

    In most countries around the world, higher education tends to be cheaper if not free. In fact in most countries around the world public universities tend to be better, more selective, focus less on research, and cheaper than the private universities. Yes under most other systems less people go to on to higher education, but at least their degrees tend to be worth more.

    What good does it do if the doors to higher education are open to everyone, but if the degrees awarded are only valuable(they get you a job) for a minority. What we offer here in the US is only the pretense of a chance.

    I am not saying the other systems are perfect or even ideal, but our system isn't working. As a consequence of having a for profit system indirectly subsidized by the federal government, there is a huge mismatch between what schools claim to offer and what they deliver.

    Our for-profit government backed systems means that schools have much less of an incentive to reject people from higher education. As a consequence of the large number of unqualified students and the large number of graduates in general, degrees are worth less.

    If the tax payer had to pay for higher education directly, I think you would have a lot more people demanding the teaching of necessary job related skills. Useless departments like "Women's Studies" would be given their rightful grave and more technical high schools would appear. From high school to grad school our educational system fails to teach(with a few exceptions) meaningful job related skills.

    We say we value education, but if we really did it would be paid for by the taxpayers. We might have a lot less people going to college but at least as a society we would be forced to be more honest about the opportunities open to our youth and their future.

    At the very least we are currently doing our youth a disservice telling them that education is the key to a middle class lifestyle when there are not nearly enough of those jobs available for everyone going to college. Hell, there are not enough of any type of jobs.

  4. Just to show everyone how easy it was for our parents compared to our current plight, and just some food for thought in general:

    The federal minimum wage from 1980-1981 was $3.10 and from 1981-1990 it was $3.35. If we assume that an average person could get a job paying minimum wage during the school years of 1980-81 to 1982-83 during a three year stint at the University of Michigan Law School, and assuming that person worked 20 hours per week during the 52 weeks of the three years in law school (certainly quite an easy task if you ask me), that person would have made $10,192.00 over the three year period.

    Now, how much would tuition have been for those three school years? A grand total of $7,266.80!

    In other words, you could work minimum wage jobs during your law school stay and actually come out ahead $2,925.20 when only taking into account tuition versus total minimum wage earnings! The extra money left over represents about $81.25 left over each month.

    I realize you would have to take into account food, lodging, transportation, etc. However, average rent was $300.00 (which if you had roomates would be significantly cheaper - say ~$75.00), and everything else was much cheaper. Basically, you really could work minimum wage jobs back then and pretty much cover ALL of your costs for three years of law school. I really don't even know why people took out loans back then (if they did at all).

    Now, comparing the numbers today:

    Tuition - $129,030.00 for three years of tuition (assuming they don't raise tuition for the next three years...good luck with that).

    Michigan minimum wage - $7.40. Working 20 hour weeks for the three years you would make $23,088.00.

    Running the numbers, you would be left with a deficit of $105,942.00! And that's not even mentioned housing costs, food, transportation, etc.

    Conclusion and final thoughts: Previous generations have really screwed us over when it comes to just about everything. They had it so easy compared to our generation (and probably those that are coming). Something needs to be done, but I am willing to bet any significant change will not come quickly or easily as the previous generations are currently living off our misfortunes and could really care less about us!

  5. "Previous generations had it so easy compared to our generation." You may be the dumbest person I've ever had the misfortune to encounter.

    There is no draft, a comprehensive and highly, almost magically, effective public health system, an expansive social safety net, instant access to information and communication on an unimaginable scale, and automation of almost all of life's day to day drudgery.

    But you're right, things are horrible now compared to the past because college is really really expensive and you can't have three kids, own a vacation home, two cars, a boat, and a motorcycle working as a human automaton in the Ford plant like your Daddy did.

    Nothing disgusts me more than whiny disaffected children of the factory worker "manufacturing class." That life was a mirage partner, a few lucky people got to live it for a few decades. It is not the lifestyle benchmark of 99.99% of people stretching back through time. And you never had any right to it.

  6. In my state, it was easier for boomers to pay for their education. A fairly recent Star Tribune article provided:

    “In 1968-69, a student could have clocked 6.2 hours a week at minimum wage to earn enough to cover annual tuition and fees of $385, according to the U. This year, a student would have to work 33.9 hours a week at minimum wage to cover tuition and fees.”

    The figure does not include law school costs, which are currently much higher than undergraduate tuition at the U of M. You can call my generation lazy, but the fact is boomers had it much easier when it came to paying for education. I am not saying I deserve a better tuition deal, but I would like the one the boomers had available.

  7. I thought that the reason for law school tuitions going through the roof was that starting salaries (yeah, I know, only for a select few) were also going through the roof? I'm not sure why the costs of a law school education should rise at the same rate as inflation--why should it?

    But no doubt about it, the student loan system is not working. I never took out loans, so I'm not sure how they work, but from the sounds of it, a student can simply apply and say, "I'm going to U. of Michigan Law School, and I need $150,000 over three years."

    Then they get the initial money and the lender doesn't even ensure that they are getting decent grades, etc. before doling out the subsequent money? I'm asking, as I don't know. If so, that really is insane.

    Even my wife's employer sponsored tuition benefit, which doesn't amount to much, used to require showing proof of a B grade or higher in order to get reimbursed.

    There is no reason to assume that law school tuition should have risen at the rate of inflation though... there's a big difference between comparing the goods/services the government uses to compute our national rate of inflation and higher education costs in general.


  8. The demand for law school (and higher education, in general) has been artificially enhanced by government-backed student loans. Such demand has, in turn, allowed the schools to claim, “We are increasing tuition to reflect the demand for our services.” Honestly, in a “free market,” how many banks would lend a 19-year-old kid $10,000 a year so he can work towards a Bachelor’s degree in American Literature from Ohio State?

    In a free market, the bank would not be insulated from its risky business decisions, by the federal government. (Under our current system, banks do not feel the sting of their poor lending choices.) A bank, operating without government-backed loans, would scrutinize the hell out of its applicants. “Well, Mr. Smith, I see that your prior work experience consists of working part-time at McDonald’s during high school, and serving as a counselor in a summer youth camp last year. I also see that you have a grand total of $432.61 in your checking and savings accounts. Your assets include a 1995 Honda Civic with 144,000 miles on it, and a class ring worth $495. You are seeking an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from a good public university. Sir, we simply cannot lend you the amount you seek at this time.”

    The better alternative is the system described by the poster at 7:41 pm. (Our for-profit, government-backed scheme also gives banks a disincentive to deny loans to students.) Yes, in such a system, less people attain higher education, but those people learn practical skills that will be in demand. They also graduate with less debt, which means that they are in a position to work where they want. They don’t feel the need to work for giant corporations that consistently screw the average man, woman, and child over a coffee table.

    In the final analysis, producing far too many graduates DOES NOT benefit society or the tons of diligent, hard-working people who pursued and attained advanced degrees. It places many highly-educated people in a situation where they cannot pay back their student loans, in a typical job. The “winners” of the higher education lottery then must slave away for some Biglaw firm or large corporation for years - in order to pay off their student debt in a relatively short amount of time (and thereby lower the total amount of interest they pay).

    To 5:53, no one argued that tuition SHOULD increase at the rate of inflation. It was used for comparison purposes. Also, by your logic, because the salary rate for the few has skyrocketed, the costs of attending law school should skyrocket for everyone? How does that make any sense? You could just as easily say the following: because the percentage of graduates will not find work in their field of study, tuition should decrease (or increase at a much slower rate). You could also point to the proliferation of adjunct/associate professors, and graduate students teaching classes, as a cost-cutting measure by the schools - to further justify a decrease in tuition. Also, what great capital improvements/investments do law schools need to make? Their costs are minimal, compared to dental and medical schools.

    If the Power-Ball lotto prize soars to new heights, should the cost of individual tickets increase likewise to reflect the bigger potential payout?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I've mentioned this before. You all need to read Ted Turners book "Call me Ted".. He talks about how he actually paid for Brown University himself by finding some random job doing construction or wokring in the mall or somethin. And it was normal during that era for people to have a part-time job in college and pay for an ivy league education.

    Our generation is fucked. Thanks to gaurenteed federal loans enabling these institutions to jack up rates to insane rates.

  11. Knute Rife,

    I wasn't born in 1974, but my father was able to pay his way through private undergrad (partial scholarship) and dental school (no scholarship) in the late 70s-early 80s without incurring any student loan debt. It was manageable. For those that have don't have full rides or aren't destined for BigLaw, law school is no longer manageable. Not much more to it, and it certainly doesn't warrant your condescending call for the poster to "shut up" due to his inability to match your gray hairs and receding hairline.

    If you aren't able to see the big picture being discussed here, then you should take your own twaddle and, in the words of Teresa Heinz, "shove it."

  12. Nando, you might like this article, it would make for a good post. The choice quotes are many:

  13. Solely because it's my alma mater, I think it's worth pointing out that increases in tuition for undergrad, especially for out of state students, has always increased at an unfathomable rate. I don't defend the amount of money is costs to attend U of M, but another item to consider is that Michigan (the state) has huge budget issues and the university competes for taxpayer dollars with several other public schools in the state.

    The cost for my father to attend engineering school in Michigan in the 1980s was around 3 grand a year. In 2001, Michigan charged me 7 grand a semester for tuition for the same degree. The tuition explosion is unfortunately not just limited to law school.

  14. Maybe someone here can clarify this for me, but why did people really even need loans when all this federal student loan legislation was passed? Are you telling me that people really couldn't come up with the money to pay for their tuition back then? I really find that hard to believe. As I pointed out earlier, even as recent as 1985 (and a few years later even) you could completely finance a top notch law school education. Why were the loans needed? Sounds fishy to me and I am going to look into this. Seems like lenders really saw an area they could exploit and took advantage. I'll see what I can drum up...

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Knute - Perhaps you can lend some light on the subject. I put up some earlier numbers on how someone during the years that you were at Michigan, someone could have financed their entire law school education (including living costs, etc.) through a minimum wage part-time job. Was it simply very difficult to obtain those types of job? Or were you simply told not to work during school? I guess I am just wondering why anyone needed to take on any debt until around 1985 or so. What are your thoughts?

  17. If my law school tuition from when I graduated about 5 years ago was only 7% of the median income, I likely wouldnt have to many qualms about Access Group indenturing me while they make almost a billion in gross revenue (at least in 2007)! The answer as to why tuition is going up is simple...greed, pure greed. I have met people who work in or know people in the higher education world and believe me, the schools are laughing all the way to the bank. They know that people are naieve about the unreasonable cost of education and they know that in a recession, people go back to school to get re-credentialed, because jobs place much emphasis on credentials, sometimes over any kind of relevant experience.

    Nando, you may also want to check out some TTT and TTTT's that now require students to carry health insurance. If they don't, the school makes them buy a "recommended" policy. I'm sure the law school gets a nice little referral fee per student for everyone that is forced to sign up for a plan that provides little to no real value in its benefits. Just something you might want to chomp on. Keep up the good fight.

  18. Great post!
    I found much the same when I did a comparison of law school costs in 1950 vs. now as compared to changes in the minimum wage. For the law school I chose, to pay for tuition, room and board, it took 1787 hours working at the minimum wage in 1950 and 9050 hours working at the minimum wage in 2009. Here's a link to the post.

  19. The top of your blog says that you should not go to law school unless you get into a Top 8. Most people say Top 10 is okay. Are you saying that #9 Michigan is not worth attending?

  20. Go with your gut on this one. Obviously, Michigan and Virginia have great reputations - and that is what counts in this industry. They are worth attending - but, preferably you have some good connections beforehand. I just didn't want to parrot everyone who says "T14 or bust." (I have been thinking of amending the header, as many have latched onto that prong as a reason to discredit this blog.) And yes, there is no guarantee that someone will get a great-paying job, upon graduation from many of these elite schools. At least not in the current state of the economy.

    The reality is that even going to an elite school is a risky proposition for most. Biglaw associates get laid off all the time. Many get burned out after 5 years or so. How easy is it to pay off $150K in debt in that time frame?

  21. Interesting stuff.

    There are a couple ways of thinking about this issue. On the one hand, top schools (and even non-top schoools) charge a fortune because they can. Few people would turn down the opp'y to attend Michigan Law because it costs so much, even if they could get a full scholarship at, say, a second tier state school. This might be a dumb choice, but it is a choice that law students will make almost every time.

    But there is another, more important way of looking at this issue. Suppose you imagined starting a "cheap" law school, with tuition at $5000 per year for a FT student. If you were able to attract 100 students (good luck), that would be $500,000 in revenue. In today's world, this is a pittance. You couldn't even rent classroom space for that, let alone pay professors, have a library, etc. Pray tell how you could manage a law school -- without public or charitable subsidies -- for $5000 per student? Ain't gonna happen. Your analysis is compelling at first glance, but if you think about the problem from the supply side (which is the heart of economics), you will see that what you are suggesting -- that a quality legal education should be available for $5000 per year -- is not possible.

  22. When people say something is impossible, it shows a lack of creativity. Most things are possible, but there is usually a lack of will to change things; usually because of greed and self-interest. If you were to attract semi-retired and active attorneys to teach as adjuncts, you could provide a QUALITY legal education at an affordable price. However, the criminal organization known as the ABA looks down on schools that rely on several adjunct professors to teach law.

    Look at BYU. This is a first tier law school. For members of the Mormon Church, tuition for the 2009-10 school year is $9,980. Room and board is also cheap in the surrounding Provo/Orem area. Look at the number of applicants to this school. It is true that the LDS Church pays more than 50 percent of the operating costs of the law school. But, it also shows that private schools with large endowments (and specifically those tied to lucrative churches) could EASILY make tuition much more affordable – and do so for church members and non-members alike.

    As to your “free market” argument, the reality is that higher education, in this country, DOES NOT OPERATE under a free market. You know that your economics argument is specious. The demand is created by the following factors: (a) easy access to student loans; (b) societal and family pressure to go to college; (c) the low-wage, service-based economy causing more people to attain advanced degrees; (d) that we, as a people, look down on trades and blue-collar jobs; and (e) our national motto, “Education is the key to your future.” The demand is artificially created. Without the student lending cartel, tuition at state and private schools would have increased at a much lower rate, i.e. the demand would have been less because fewer people could have “afforded” to enroll in the first place.

    Lastly, I am not attacking Michigan’s law school. It is a top program. At the bottom of the entry, you can see that I noted that this is the only law school that I could find tuition history for. So a school like this can largely charge what it wants.

    One question for you though: wouldn’t this logic mean that lower-ranked schools should charge lower tuition because of less demand and lower employment prospects? So why should a third tier school like New York Law School charge $44,850 in tuition and fees for the 2009-2010 year? Plus, look at the size of the school’s endowment:

    For the 2005 tax year, you can see that NYLS’s endowment was $208,128,543. Go down to line 21 on this IRS Form 990. This amount is greater than most university endowments! But I suppose you will conveniently overlook this fact, and assert that a law school with a $208 million endowment (in 2005) cannot afford to rent classroom space and pay their professors UNLESS they charge $45K per year in tuition and fees.

  23. I'm sypathetic to your perspective, but your response proves my point about the cost of legal education. You just want more public or charitable subsidies to lower the cost. You haven't addressed the fundamental supply side problem. Even if it were a simple and quick proces to obtain accreditation to start a new law school -- that is, assume no bureauctric or administrative barriers to entry -- you would not be able to open a quality school that charged, say, $5000 per year in tuition. Your comment about adjunct professors misses the point [I am an adjunct law professor myself]. You would need to satisfy minimum facility expectations (class rooms, library, etc.) or you would attact zero students. And even adjunct professors get paid, anywhere from $2500 to $5000 per course per semester. You obviously have no understanding of the real world, and merely direct your anger at those who you believe "owe" you a less expensive legal education. It's sad, really, because you're probably a smart person, but you think you can change reality by "wishing" it were so.

  24. I understand the real world. I understand that law schools are businesses, and that they will gladly shade/manipulate their employment and salary figures in order to attract more applicants and students. I also understand that law schools are primarily cash cows. You are aware that many law school libraries are starting to "go digital," are you not? (That should translate into lower expenses for law schools, correct?)

    Where are the huge investments in technology and medical science that medical schools sustain? By your logic, medical school and dental school tuition should be several times higher than the cost of "legal education." Also, if I thought I could change this racket by wishing things were different, I would not be running this blog, informing others in person, or doing interviews on the subject. I would be sitting at home, twiddling my thumbs.

    All I am trying to do is provide balanced info to prospective law students and the general public. (I suppose, as a professor, you would prefer if students relied solely on the info put out by the schools.) Academics serve as clergy in this country, i.e. they are there to promote faith in higher education. For instance, if they are so knowledgeable, why don't economics and business professors quit teaching and start their own enterprises? Why aren't full-time law profs out practicing law? (Because they want to pass on their supposed knowledge to the next generation, you say?)

    There should clearly be a reduction in the number of U.S. law schools, as the lawyer market is over-saturated. This would mean less public subsidies going toward higher education. You probably are an adjunct professor. I can see this, in the way you overlook the fact that there are PLENTY of awful, fifth-rate law schools out there that charge $35K-$40K per year in tuition. You also conveniently ignore return on investment. Go read Professor Herwig Schlunk’s economic analysis of legal education. He concludes that law school is a bad investment for all but a relative few. He is a law professor at Vanderbilt University.

    As someone whose income depends somewhat on public or charitable subsidies, i.e. student loans/grants/scholarships, I don't expect you to understand my position. (By the way, do you think BYU is relying on adjuncts to teach most of its classes?) Now, if you ARE serious about further discussion, email me your info, i.e. your name, number, and the name of your school and department/program, and we can debate the merits of higher education in a public forum. My email address if Ask your school for permission and we can talk about law school on a panel, radio interview, or TV program. I hope that you will take me up on this earnest offer.

  25. You obviously are missing my point. I agree with much of your analysis about the pros and cons of law school and about how law schools manipulate their employment data. But those are different issues than the one you argued in this post, in which you suggested that a quality legal education should be available for $5000 per year in tuition. You apparently concede that this is not possible without public or charitable subsides. That's my only point. But, of course, subsidies mean that someone else is paying. I have no desire to "debate" you because there is very little to debate here. I agree with you on the legitimate points you make. But you have not offered any arguments or evidence that my point is not also correct.

  26. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  27. I have gone through this blog. I found it very interesting and helpful. Nowadays I am completing my online degree course from home.
    So this blog really doing great for me.

    Bachelor,s Degree

  28. I've always wanted to speak to a couple people who got their law degrees from an online school of law to see how their epxerience of studying law differed from mine - I went to a brick & mortar uni - and have always been interested in the online study experience.
    Law Degree Courses

  29. The percentage of household income swallowed up by tuition is actually worse; you have gross figures for income, I believe. With taxes, the ~50,000 gross median income will be roughly the same as one year of law school tuition.

    Also, its called loans. Almost everybody can use them and that is how we fund our graduate and doctoral studies. (college, also)

  30. what's next, try to diss harvard?

    Get a life (and a clue) Nando. You went to drake. Drake is miles below Michigan.
    You WISH you could've gone there. Sour grapes.

  31. Hello scat-muncher, i.e. 2:13 pm. I simply pointed out that the school's tuition has SKYROCKETED over the past 30 years, moron.!?!

    By the way, Above the Law's Elie Mystal - a Harvard Law grad - pointed out that the University of Michigan was advertising Indian doc review projects, to its law grads.

    "The University of Michigan Law School — the 9th-best law school in America — is now posting job opportunities from India.

    Has it really gotten bad enough that graduates from a top law school should consider international LPO opportunities? Yes, yes it has…."

    What does that say about the strength of the U.S. legal job market, Moron?!?! This article was posted on June 25, 2010.

  32. Yeah, since NONE of our Tech market is over in India(china,etc) right now is it?

    Great choice going into that field.......


Web Analytics