Monday, February 10, 2014
Legal education has been ground zero for practically all of the major challenges facing higher education: rising tuition, rising student debt, a contracted job market, and resulting questions about the utility and value of the degree. Unsurprisingly, there has been a steady drumbeat of bad publicity that has exposed the sausage-making side of law schools to unprecedented scrutiny.
As a result, applications are down more than a third in just three years. First-year enrollments are at their lowest levels in almost 40 years and down 24 percent since the record high just three years ago. Moreover, declining Law School Admission Test registrations, a proverbial canary, suggest those enrollment trends have yet to bottom out.
That has led colleges to lay off faculty and staff members and to revisit pricing strategies; a few have even gone as far as lowering tuition to attract more students—an unthinkable move during the boom. But lost in the din of negativity is a milestone that deserves cautious celebration: Law schools, as a whole, are more racially and ethnically diverse than ever.
Today, students of color account for 26 percent of all law students. Ten years ago, the proportion was 21 percent; 40 years ago, it was 10 percent. Unsurprisingly, the rate of increase has been uneven. Forty years ago, Asians accounted for less than 1 percent of the nation’s law students; today, they account for 7 percent. The increase among Hispanic law students has been similarly striking, going from 1.7 percent 40 years ago to 8 percent today. Over the same time, the proportion of black students has gone from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.
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