Wednesday, November 28, 2012
In August, I posted to this blog a narrative analysis comparing the 2010 and 2011 enrollment and profile data among law schools based on the data published in the 2012 ABA-LSAC Guide and the 2013 ABA-LSAC Guide. In response to recent comments on the 2012 enrollment situation, see ABA Journal Weekly Newsletter and the discussion at The Faculty Lounge, and the further drop in LSAT test-takers in June/October 2012 recently discussed at Tax Prof Blog, I thought it might make sense to update the enrollment and profile analysis to account for 2012 enrollment and profile data, to the extent that it is available, and to offer some thoughts on 2013.
As of November 15, only 140 law schools had published enrollment data on their webpages and only 128 had published sufficient profile data on which to make meaningful year-to-year comparisons. Please note that this analysis is based on "unofficial data," having been taken from law school webpages, not from any ABA publication, and having been taken from law school webpages prior to the LSAC certification of enrollment and profile data which the LSAC is undertaking this year for the first time.
ENROLLMENT IN DECLINE – Between 2010 and 2012, only 12 schools were flat (a change between -1% and +1%) or had an increase in enrollment; 128 of the 140 law schools had a decline in enrollment (a decrease greater than 1%), of which
-89 had a decline of 10% or more, of which
-59 had a decline in enrollment of 20% or more, and of which
-15 had a decline in enrollment of 30% or more.
This means over 90% of law schools for which 2012 enrollment information is available had a decline in enrollment and that more than 40% had a decline in enrollment of 20% or more.
Based on the data published in the 2012 ABA-LSAC Guide, in 2010, these 140 law schools had 33,952 first-years (68.3% of the 49,700 total 1L enrollment (LSAC matriculants)). Based on the data published in the 2013 ABA-LSAC Guide, in 2011, these 140 law schools had 31,082 first-years (68.2% of the 45,600 total 1L enrollment (LSAC matriculants)). In 2012, based on data from law school webpages, these 140 law schools had 28,380 first-years.
The decline in first-year enrollment was roughly 8.45% percent across these 140 schools between 2010 and 2011 (slightly more than the national decline of 8.25%), while the decline in first-year enrollment was roughly 8.69% across these 140 schools between 2011 and 2012.
If enrollment at these 140 schools represents 68.25% of total first-year enrollment for 2012 (the average of 2010 and 2011), that would suggest that total first-year enrollment (LSAC matriculants) for fall 2012 may be as low as 41,500-41,600, a decline of roughly 8.8% from 2011 and a decline of roughly 16% since 2010. (The LSAC certification of enrollment and profile information may come in even slightly lower than this estimate as it is going to be based on snapshots of enrollment on October 5, 2012, which would exclude students who began classes but withdrew prior to October 5, 2012. This group of students might number a few hundred if there were one to three such students at each law school.)
PROFILES IN DECLINE – Between 2010 and 2012, 93 of the 128 law schools with available profile information had a decline in their LSAT/GPA profile (more indicators down then up), 23 had an increase in profile (more indicators up then down), and 12 had a mixed profile (same number of indicators up and down).
ENROLLMENT AND PROFILES IN DECLINE – Most significantly, of the 128 law schools with both enrollment and profile information available for fall 2012, 85 law schools (nearly two-thirds) saw declines in enrollment and in their LSAT/GPA profiles between 2010 and 2012.
Of these 85 law schools, 38 law schools saw declines in enrollment of greater than 20% and saw declines in their LSAT/GPA profiles. That means nearly 30% of law schools with available enrollment and profile information for 2012 had declines in enrollment of 20% or more and saw their LSAT/GPA profile decline. It also means that over 75% of the 50 law schools with declines in enrollment greater than 20% and for which 2012 profile information is available had declines in profile for 2012.
Notably, five of these 38 law schools were in the USNews top-50, 10 were ranked between 51-100, 10 were ranked between 101-145 and 13 were in the alphabetical listing of schools. The declining interest in law school, therefore, is impacting law schools across the rankings, but is more dramatically impacting alphabetical schools than top-ranked schools.
FURTHER THOUGHTS ON 2012 – According to the LSAC Volume Summary, applications to law school slid from 87,900 in 2010 to 78,500 in 2011 to approximately 68,000 for 2012 (although the 2012 numbers have not been finalized). Over the last nine years, law schools, on average, have admitted roughly 56,800 students per year, with a low of 55,500 in 2007 and in 2008. The “admit” rate – which was only 56% for fall 2004 – had climbed to 71% for fall 2011. For the last several years, however, matriculants have averaged roughly 82% of admitted students. So if we did have 41,600 matriculants this fall (as estimated above), and if matriculants represented roughly 82% of admitted students, that would mean we had roughly 50,700 admitted students, the lowest number this millennium, with an admit rate of nearly 75%, the highest this millenium. (Alternatively, if matriculants declined as a percentage of admitted students, it is possible that a larger number of applicants were admitted.)
PROJECTIONS FOR 2013 -- June and October LSAT administrations suggest that there may be fewer than 60,000 applicants for fall 2013. There were 93,341 June/October test-takers in 2009 (for the 2010 admissions cycle) (resulting in 87,900 applicants – 94.2% of tests administered in June/October). There were 87,318 June/October test-takers in 2010 (for the 2011 admissions cycle) (resulting in 78,500 applicants – 89.9% of tests administered in June/October). There were 71,981 June/October test-takers in 2011 (for the 2012 admissions cycle) (resulting in roughly 68,000 applicants – 94.5% of tests administered in June/October).
That is a three-year average in which the number of applicants in a cycle represented roughly 92.9% of the tests administered in June/October. There were 63,003 June/October test-takers in 2012 (for the 2013 admissions cycle). If the 2013 cycle results in a number of applicants representing 92.9% of June/October test-takers, law schools can anticipate there being only roughly 58,530 applicants to law schools for fall 2013. (Notably, in the admissions cycles from 2007-2009, the number of applicants in a cycle represented, on average, roughly 111% of the June/October test-takers, so the estimate of 58,530 may understate the number of possible applicants.)
If there are only 58,530 applicants for fall 2013 (which would represent nearly a 14% decline from fall 2012 -- the third consecutive double-digit decline in applications), and if law schools admit only 50,700 of these applicants, the same as the estimate above for fall 2012, across all law schools over 86% of all applicants to law school would receive offers of admission. If 82% of these admitted students were to matriculate, that would mean a first-year enrollment for fall 2013 that once again would be around 41,500-41,600. Alternatively, if law schools remain somewhat selective and were to admit only 48,000 of the 58,530 estimated applicants, that still would be an admit rate of 82%. If 82% of those 48,000 matriculated, the first-year enrollment would decline to roughly 39,400, a decline of about 5.3% from the fall 2012 estimate set forth above.
There are two competing tensions law schools must weigh in making admissions decisions in a declining market – revenue and LSAT/GPA profile. Do you take the number of students you need to meet revenue projections (even if that means profile slides) or do you take a smaller number of students (and take a revenue hit) in an effort to maintain LSAT/GPA profile?
What the 2011 and 2012 classes demonstrate is that in the current market, for a large number of schools, even taking significantly fewer students did not allow them to maintain their profiles. Given that many schools already have lost significant revenue due to shrinking enrollments in 2011 and/or 2012 (for just one example see the recent discussion of Vermont Law School in the National Law Journal) they will be hard-pressed to shrink enrollment further to maintain profiles. As a result, I think when enrollment and profile data is evaluated in fall 2013, we will see even more widespread declines in profile than was manifested in 2011 and 2012, possibly along with some ongoing declines in enrollment. It seems likely that several more schools may experience both significant declines in enrollment and in profile.
[posted by Jerry Organ]