The University of Arizona’s law school is turning up the heat on its competitors as demand for traditional law degrees continues to dwindle.
In a second round of tuition-slashing set to take effect this fall, the UA plans to undercut the nonresident tuition rates of more than a dozen peer law schools nationwide by offering steep discounts to students from other states.
“The drastic decrease in law school applicants nationally since 2008 means a much more competitive environment for attracting the best students from Arizona and beyond,” said the UA’s proposal for the nonresident fee change, recently approved by the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities.
Nonresidents who paid more than $42,000 last school year to study law at the UA will soon pay $29,000 a year, a drop of more than 30 percent. The rate for an in-state law student will stay about the same, around $24,400.
The change leaves the UA’s law school with the cheapest nonresident tuition rate of its 15 peer schools around the country. Each charges $10,000-$30,000 a year more.
The UA’s new rate also is about 30 percent cheaper than what its sister institution, Arizona State University in Tempe, charges nonresident law students. ASU will charge about $41,700 this fall, nearly $13,000 more than the UA.
“We’re responding to the market in changing times,” Marc Miller, dean of the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law, said of the new cost structure.
“We’re not trying to undermine other schools,” Miller said in an interview. The hope is that would-be lawyers will add the UA to the list of schools they’re considering, he said.
“It will have more students looking at us more seriously early on,” he said.
Law-school pricing can be confusing because published tuition rates often are much higher than what students actually pay once scholarships are applied, Miller said. The UA’s new rates are closer to the true cost of attendance, he said.
It’s the second year in a row the UA has cut law tuition for nonresidents. Rates this school year were reduced by 8 percent for nonresidents and also by 11 percent for residents.
The UA’s law school was the first in the nation to cut prices, and some are starting to follow suit. The University of Iowa, for example, recently cited the UA’s cuts in a bid to trim its nonresident rates.
At the UA, the price changes follow a 32 percent drop in freshman law school enrollment since 2010, according to data collected by the American Bar Association.
Other law schools have seen similar declines, especially as job opportunities for new lawyers started drying up during the recent recession, Miller said.
At the UA, some of the enrollment slide has been offset by an increase in foreign lawyers attending a program that allows them to earn a U.S. law degree in two years instead of the normal three. Those students aren’t captured in the bar association statistics, he said.
Besides cutting tuition for would-be lawyers, UA is setting up a number of new law-based programs for students who don’t intend to practice law.
A new bachelor of arts in law major, for example, is aimed at those who could benefit from legal training but don’t need a juris doctor degree, such as those in health care, human resources, contract management and other fields.
Income from new programs will help support the law school’s core offerings, allowing the UA to retain experienced law faculty and staff, Miller said. So far, the work force has been largely unaffected, he said.
Students are the main beneficiaries of the changes, he said.
“The longstanding criticism is that law school tuition is too darned expensive,” Miller said. “We’re doing our best to help students graduate without crushing levels of debt.”