Monday, April 13, 2015

PROJECTIONS FOR LAW SCHOOL ENROLLMENT FOR FALL 2015

          This blog posting is designed to do three things.  First, following up on recent discussions regarding trends in applicants by Al Brophy at The Faculty Lounge and Derek Muller at Excess of Democracy, I provide a detailed analysis to project the likely total applicant pool we can expect at the end of the cycle based on trends from March through the end of the cycle in 2013 and 2014.  Second, using the likely total pool of applicants, I estimate the number of admitted students and matriculants, but also question whether the estimates might be too high given the decline in quality of the applicant pool in this cycle.  Third, building on the second point, I suggest that law schools in the lower half of the top tier are likely to see unusual enrollment/profile pressure that may then have a ripple effect down through the rankings.

1. ESTIMATES OF THE TOTAL NUMBER OF APPLICANTS

Reviewing the 2013 and 2014 Cycles to Inform the 2015 Cycle

2013   Current Volume Summary Date

Applicants

%   of Cycle

Projected   Total Applicant Pool

Jan.   25, 2013

30,098

56%

53,750

Mar.   8, 2013

46,587

84%

55,460

May   17, 2013

55,764

95%

58,700

End   of Cycle

 

 

59,400

 

2014   Current Volume Summary Date

Applicants

%   of Cycle

Projected   Total Applicant Pool

Jan.   31, 2014

29,638

58%

51,110

Mar.   7, 2014

42,068

79%

53,250

April   25, 2014

48,698

89%

54,720

End   of Cycle

 

 

55,700

 

2015   Current Volume Summary Date

Applicants

%   of Cycle

Projected   Total Applicant Pool

Jan.   30, 2015

26,702

54%

49,450

Mar.   6, 2015

39,646

76%

52,160

April   3, 2015

45,978

87%

52,848

End   of Cycle

 

 

54,000   (Estimate)

        In each of the last two years, a modest surge in late applicants meant the final count exceeded the March/April projections by a couple thousand.  That would suggest that the current projection (for just under 53,000) likely understates the end of cycle applicant pool, which I am now estimating conservatively at 54,000 (down about 3% from 2014).  (In 2014, the amount by which the final pool total exceeded the early March projection was nearly 2,500.  With an estimated pool of 54,000 applicants, I am estimating that the final pool in 2015 will exceed the early March projection by roughly 2,000.)  (That said, if the employment results for 2014 graduates, which will be released shortly, show modest improvement over 2013, I anticipate that even more people might come off the fence and perhaps apply late for the fall 2015 class.)

2. ESTIMATES FOR ADMITTED APPLICANTS AND MATRICULANTS  

        The chart below shows the number of applicants, admitted students and matriculants over the last three years along with an estimate for fall 2015 based on the assumption above that we have a total of 54,000 applicants this cycle.  With 1,700 fewer applicants, I am assuming 1,000 fewer admitted students (a slight increase in the percentage admitted from 2014), and then assuming the number of matriculants will reflect the three-year average for the percentage of admitted students who matriculate – 87%.  This would yield a first-year entering class of 36,975, down about 2.5% from 2014.   

Estimates of Admitted Students and Matriculants for 2015 Based on Trends in 2012-2014

 

Applicants

Admitted   Students

Percent   of Applicants

Matriculants

Percent  of Admitted

2012

67,900

50,600

74.5%

44,481

87.9%

2013

59,400

45,700

76.9%

39,675

86.8%

2014

55,700

43,500

78.1%

37,924

87.2%

2015   (est.)

54,000

42,500

78.7%

36,975

87%

Why These Estimates for Admitted Students and Matriculants Might be Too High

        a.      Significant Decline in Applicants with LSATs of 165+

        Because of changes in the nature of the applicant pool in 2015, however, the estimates of the number of admitted students and number of matriculants in the chart above may be too high.  In 2014, almost all of the decrease in applicants came among those with LSATs of <165.  The pool of applicants with LSATs of 165+ in 2014 was only slightly smaller than in 2013 (7,477 compared with 7,496). Indeed, as a percentage of the applicant pool, those with LSATs of 165+ increased from 12.6% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014.  This resulted in a slight increase in the number of matriculants with LSATs of 165+ in 2014 compared to 2013 (6,189 compared with 6,154).

        In the current cycle, however, the number of applicants with LSATs of 165+ was only 6,320 as of March 6, 2015. In 2013, there were 7,228 on March 8, 2013 (of a final total of 7,496).  In 2014, there were 7,150 on March 7 (of a final total of 7,477).  Thus, the average increase in applicants with LSATs of 165+ between early March and the end of the cycle is only about 4%.  That would suggest that we could anticipate having roughly 6,585 applicants with LSATs of 165+ at the end of the cycle – down nearly 900 from 2014 – over 12%.

Estimate of Number of Total Applicants for 2015 with LSATs of 165+ Based on Trends in 2013 and 2014

 

Applicants at 165+

 

Applicants at 165+

# Increase to end of Cycle

% Increase to end of Cycle

March 8, 2013

7228

End of Cycle 2013

7496

268

3.7%

March 7, 2014

7150

End of Cycle 2014

7477

327

4.6%

March 6, 2015

6320

End of Cycle 2015 (est.)

6585

265

4.2%

        On a longer term basis, if the estimates in the preceding paragraphs are accurate, the entering class in fall of 2015 will again extend the slide in the number and percentage of first-year students with LSATs of 165+ that has been underway since the class that entered in fall of 2010.

Five-Year Trend in Applicants and Matriculants with LSATs of 165+  and Estimates for 2015

 

Applicants with LSATs of 165+

Matriculants   with LSATs of 165+

Percent   of Applicants Matriculating

2010

12,177

9,477  

77.8%

2011

11,190

8,952  

80%

2012

9,196

7,571  

82.3%

2013

7,496

6,154  

82.1%

2014

7,477

6,189

82.8%

2015 (est.)

6,585

5,420

82.4%

        Given that on average over the last three years roughly 82.4% of admitted students with LSATs of 165+ actually matriculated, one could expect that the 6,585 applicants would translate into 5,420 matriculants with LSATs of 165+ for fall 2015, a decline of nearly 770 from 2014.  Notably, this would represent a 45.9% drop in applicants with LSATs of 165+ since 2010 and a 42.8% drop in matriculants with LSATs of 165+ since 2010.

        b. Modest Decrease Among Applicants with LSATs <150

        On the other end of the LSAT distribution, it is a completely different story. Although the number of applicants with LSATs <150 also has declined, the decline has been more modest than among those with LSATs of 165+.  Moreover, those with LSATs of <150 are much more likely to apply late in the cycle.  In the last two years there has been significant growth among applicants with LSATs of <150 between early March and the end of the cycle.   As a result, I would estimate that we would have 18,350 applicants with LSATs of <150 by the end of this cycle, a decline of only about 4.5%.

Estimate of Number of Total Applicants for 2015 with LSATs of <150 Based on Trends in 2013 and 2014

 

Applicants with LSATs of <150

 

Applicants with LSATs of <150

# Increase

% Increase

March 8, 2013

13,364

End of Cycle 2013

20,706

6,642

49.7%

March 7, 2014

11,662

End of Cycle 2014

19,239

7,577

65%

March 6, 2015

11,467

End of Cycle 2015 (est.)

18,350

6,880

60%

        With applicants with LSATs <150 making up a larger percentage of the declining applicant pool, the number of matriculants with LSATs of <150 actually had grown each year up until 2014, when the slight increase in matriculants with LSATs of 165+ was mirrored by a slight decrease in matriculants with LSATs <150. 

Five-Year Trend in Applicants and Matriculants with LSATs of <150 and Estimates for 2015

 

Applicants   with LSATs of <150

Matriculants   with LSATs of <150

Percent   of Applicants Matriculating

2010

26,548

7,013

26.4%

2011

24,192

7,101

29.4%

2012

22,089

7,906

35.8%

2013

20,706

8,482

41%

2014

19,239

8,361

43.5%

2015 (est.)

18,350

8,700

47.4%

        Given that the percentage of applicants with LSATs <150 matriculating has increased each of the last five years, it seems reasonable to expect another increase – to 47.4% -- resulting in roughly 8,700 matriculants with LSATs of <150, particularly given the decrease in the number of applicants with LSATs of 165+.  Even so, it seems unlikely to make up for the drop of nearly 770 matriculants among those with LSATs of 165+.  Notably, while the pool of applicants with LSATs <150 has decreased by of 30.9% since 2010, the number of matriculants has increased by 24.2%.

        Thus, while the smaller decline in applicants that is expected this year might suggest a correspondingly smaller decline in matriculants, with the weaker profile of the applicant pool in 2015 compared to 2014, it is quite possible that the total number of admitted students will be lower than the chart above suggests and that the corresponding number of matriculants also will be lower than the chart above suggests.

        Phrased differently, if there really is going to be a decline of roughly 770 matriculants just in the group with LSATs of 165+, then the total decline in matriculants may well be greater than the 950 estimated in the chart above.  Between 2013 and 2014, a decline in applicants of 3,700, almost all with LSATs of 164 and below, resulted in a decline in matriculants of 1,750, all with LSATs of 164 and below.  If the decline in applicants is 1,700 this cycle, with over half the decline among those with LSATs of 165+, with a decline of perhaps several hundred with LSATs between 150-164, and with a modest decrease (or possibly a slight increase) among those with LSATs <150, we may well see that the decline in admitted students and in matriculants is slightly larger than estimated in the chart above.

3. PROFILE CHALLENGES AMONG ELITE SCHOOLS

        One interesting side note is that the significant decrease in the number of applicants with LSATs of 165+ is likely to put significant pressure on a number of top-50 law schools as they try to hold their enrollment and their LSAT profiles.  Simply put, there are not enough applicants with LSATs of 165+ to allow all the law schools in the top-50 or so to maintain their profiles and their enrollment. 

        If the estimates above are correct – that there will be roughly 5420 matriculants with LSATs of 165+– and if we assume that at least a few hundred of these matriculants are going to be going to law schools ranked 50 or below either due to geography or scholarships or both – and if we assume that the top 15 law schools are likely to leverage rankings prestige (and perhaps scholarships) to hold enrollment and profile -- then the decrease of roughly 770 matriculants with LSATs of 165+ is going to be felt mostly among the law schools ranked 16-50 or so. 

        In 2014, the top 15 law schools probably had roughly 3,800 first-year matriculants with LSATs of 165+.  The schools ranked 16-50 likely had another 1,900 or so.  The remaining 500 plus matriculants with LSATs of 165 and above likely were scattered among other law schools lower in the rankings. Let’s assume the top-15 law schools manage to keep roughly 3,700 of the 3,800 they had in 2014.  Let’s assume law schools ranked 50 and below keep roughly 500 or so.  That means the law schools ranked between 16 and 50 have to get by with 1,220 matriculants with LSATs of 165+ rather than 1,900 last year.  While many schools will be dealing with the challenges of maintaining enrollment (and revenue) while trying to hold profile, this likely will be a particularly challenging year for law schools ranked between 16 and 50 that are trying to navigate concerns about enrollment (and revenue) with concerns about profile.  To the extent that those schools look toward applicants with lower LSAT profiles to maintain enrollment, that will then have a ripple effect through the law schools lower in the rankings.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwhiteboard/2015/04/projections-for-law-school-enrollment-for-fall-2015.html

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