The University of Akron said Wednesday it expects to raise law school tuition by 6 percent and then freeze it for incoming law school students this fall.
Officials will present the 2013-14 tuition plan to trustees in March, but in the meantime are trying to drum up business in a soft market for students.
Under the proposal, incoming full-time, in-state law students would pay $21,375 a year, plus about $1,500 in fees at the current level, for the duration of their law school educations. Out-of-state students would pay just $50 a semester more than their in-state peers.
“We are confronting a situation where we know that we need to act very proactively and we think this is a sound financial decision for the students and the law school,” said interim law school dean Elizabeth Reilly.
Nationwide, the number of applicants to U.S. law schools has plunged 20 percent since this time last year and 38 percent from two years ago, according to the Law School Admissions Council. Of the 200 law schools nationwide, only four were seeing an increase in applications.
High tuition, heaps of student debt and a scarcity of well-paying jobs are cited for the declines.
At UA, according to Reilly, applications for this fall are down from last year, when a total of 1,446 students applied.
That in turn was a nearly 40 percent drop from the university’s 10-year high of 2,319 in 2004, a banner year for law education nationwide. Since then, law school enrollment across the country has dropped 45 percent.
At the same time, law school tuition and fees have soared. At UA, they rose from $11,076 for full-time, in-state students in 2003-2004 to $23,084 last fall, a 108 percent increase.
Still, there are some bright spots on UA’s horizon.
The number of students who enrolled in fall 2012 was down only 4.6 percent, the smallest enrollment decrease in the state, the university said. Also, average debt for a UA law graduate is $66,283 compared to $77,640 at other public universities and $116,842 at private law schools nationwide.
In addition, UA was the highest ranked Ohio school listed in the 2012 rankings for Best Value Law Schools by the National Jurist. UA got an A- and the only other two schools listed, Ohio State and Cleveland State, each got a B+.
As for law students already enrolled, they would face the same 6 percent increase as incoming students next fall. Their tuition is not frozen for subsequent years — at least not now.
“I think it’s something we need to continue to talk about,” Reilly said.
Assistant law school dean Lauri Thorpe said fees also are not included in the freeze for new students.
“Some fees may remain the same, some fees may be increased by a certain dollar amount, some fees may be increased by a percentage,” she said in an email.
UA is one of nine public and private law schools in Ohio.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.