Law School Tuition Over the Last Forty Years

Law school tuitions have climbed dramatically over the last forty years. How dramatically? Paul Campos has some interesting figures in a new paper, The Crisis of the American Law School. From the paper, here’s Harvard’s tuition adjusted for inflation in 2011 dollars since 1971:

1971: $12,386
1981: $15,862
1991: $27,207
2001: $35,817
2012: $50,880

And here’s the median tuition at ABA-accredited schools since 1985, again adjusted for inflation and in 2011 dollars:

1985: $15,438
1995: $24,988
2005: $33,021
2011: $39,915

Finally, here’s the median resident tuition at public ABA-accredited schools since 1985:

1985: $3,746
1995: $7,201
2005: $13,944
2011: $20,076

Campos comments:

To get a better sense of what these numbers mean in regard to how expensive American legal education has become for the average American family, let us return for a moment to the University of Michigan Law School. Recall that in 1971 annual resident tuition [at Michigan] was $4,443 in 2011 dollars. In that year, median household income in America was $49,709 in 2011 dollars. One year’s resident tuition at what was then and remains now one of the nation’s pre-eminent law schools cost almost exactly a month’s (pre-tax) income for the average American household.

In 2011, median household income in America was $49,909, i.e., almost exactly what it was 40 years earlier. But now the average American household would need to spend slightly less than an entire year’s worth of pre-tax income to pay for a year’s resident tuition at Michigan Law School.