LSSSE Annual Results: Higher Debt, Lower Student Satisfaction (Part 1)

This is the fifth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt and the student experience.

The LSSSE Survey is designed to measure the effects of legal education on law students.  Student satisfaction is related to those effects; therefore, respondents are asked:

How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at your law school?

The purpose of this question is to prompt respondents to consider and assess their law school experiences.  This is, in essence, a question regarding satisfaction, a perceptional concept.  As such, respondents are given the following four answer choices:

  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

In the analyses below, the favorable responses (Excellent and Good) are combined, as are the unfavorable responses (Fair and Poor).

As a general proposition, LSSSE respondents reported high levels of satisfaction with their law school experience in each of the survey years.  In 2015, 84% of respondents rated their law school experiences “excellent” or “good.” [i]  Eighty-one percent stated that they would definitely or probably attend their same law school again. [ii]  Interestingly, these proportions were higher than in both 2011 and 2006.  This is noteworthy, given the increased costs of legal education and the handwringing about whether the endeavor is worth those costs.

A possible theory for these higher expressions of satisfaction might be that those who have opted to attend law school in spite of the unflattering scrutiny of late are more likely to have an affinity for the endeavor that transcends some of the most common practical considerations.  Put simply, current law students may be more apt to be satisfied with the experience compared to past cohorts.  Another theory could be that law schools have adapted to changing student needs and demands in ways that have increased satisfaction.  In any case, the trend was somewhat surprising to us.

But in each survey year, respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 were noticeably less likely to respond favorably to the satisfaction questions.  In 2006, 75% of these respondents had favorable views of their law school experiences, compared to the overall rate of 80%.  Similar differences were observed in 2011 and 2015. [iii]

[i]. Overall Satisfaction with “Entire Law School Experience” response proportions

fig 9 overall satisfaction

[ii]. Overall “Same Law School” response proportions

fig 10 overall same law school

 

[iii]. Satisfaction with “Entire Law School Experience,” more than $120K

satisfaction with law school more than 120k


LSSSE Annual Results: Lower LSAT Score, Higher Debt

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends through the lens of LSAT scores.

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) looms large in the law school admissions process. Applicants with high scores tend to have the best chances of being offered both admission and lucrative scholarships. The latter trend has potential implications on student debt trends. The more that a student’s costs of attendance are discounted, the less that student has to borrow. And across the entire system of legal education, it seems logical that student debt trends would share some relationship with trends pertaining to the awarding of scholarships and grants.

For each LSAT grouping, the proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was higher in 2015 than in 2006.  But the intensity of these increases was greater for respondents with LSAT scores of 155 or below.  In 2006, the proportion of these “lower-LSAT” respondents who expected to owe more than $120,000 was 16%–the same proportion as their “higher-LSAT” peers.  By 2015, however, the proportion for the lower-LSAT group was 37%, almost double the 20% proportion of the higher-LSAT group.  The trends were even starker for respondents with LSAT scores of 145 or below. In 2006, 15% of these respondents expected to owe more than $120,000; in 2015, that proportion was 52%. [i]

At the other end, in each survey year, respondents in the higher-LSAT groupings were more likely to expect no debt than other respondents; but these trends became more apparent in 2015.  In 2006, 12% of respondents with LSAT scores of 156 or above expected no debt, compared to 10% of respondents with lower scores.  In 2015, the proportion of no-debt expectations within the higher-LSAT group increased to 20%, while the proportion within the lower-median group remained at 10%.

[i]. Proportion of expected debt, by LSAT Scores

Debt LSAT

 


LSSSE Annual Results: Black and Latino Respondents Expected The Most Debt

This is the third installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends based on race and ethnicity. For sake of clearer explication of trends, this post focuses on respondents who identified as Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or White.

Reliance on student loans is largely a reflection of wealth and access to alternative sources of funds. Students from less affluent backgrounds tend to rely on student loans to greater extents than their more affluent peers. This means that the large racial and ethnic wealth disparities in the U.S. have broad implications on student debt trends.

In each of the survey years, white and Asian respondents were more likely than black and Latino respondents to expect no debt.  Regarding high debt, a telling trend was observed.  In 2006, there were only marginal racial and ethnic differences in expectations of more than $100,000 in debt.  By 2011, however, clear disparities emerged, with black and Latino respondents more likely to expect debt at this level.  By 2015, the disparities became more intense, with 61% of black respondents and 56% of Latino respondents expecting debt at this level, compared to about 40% of white and Asian respondents.  That year, 43% of black respondents expected to owe more than $120,000—the first time a racial or ethnic group crossed the 40% threshold on any LSSSE debt category.[i]

[i]. Proportion of expected debt at various levels, by race

debt by race


LSSSE Annual Results: Large Tuition Increases at Public Law Schools

This is the second installment in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, 2006 to 2015, with 2011 as a midpoint. This post discusses student debt trends based on institutional sector—i.e. whether the law school is public or private.

In each of the three survey years we studied—2006, 2011 and 2015—higher proportions of respondents attending private law schools expected debt above $120,000, compared to their peers at public schools. Throughout higher education, private school tuition tends to be higher than those at public schools—a reflection of the relative absence of public subsidies to private schools. In both realms, the proportions of respondents who expected debt above $120,000 increased between 2006 and 2015.

In 2006, 38% of private school respondents expected to owe more than $100,000; in 2011 and 2015, that proportion exceeded 50%.  Tuition and, therefore, debt is growing dramatically at public college and universities, due in large part to declines in the aforementioned state subsidies.  While the high-debt expectations were lower among respondents attending public law schools, the increases over the survey years were more dramatic.  In 2006, only 11% of LSSSE respondents expected debt of more than $100,000; by 2015, this proportion had almost tripled to 31%. [i]

The increases were even more compelling among respondents who expected more than $120,000 in debt.  In 2006, only 4% of public school respondents expected debt at this level; by 2015, that proportion had more than quadrupled to 17%.  The same proportions almost doubled among private law school respondents—19% in 2006 and 36% in 2015. [ii]

Focusing once again on the subset of respondents who expected to owe more than $100,000, in 2015 a whopping 71% of those respondents who attended private schools expected to owe more than $120,000.  Fifty-six percent of this high-debt subset at public schools expected to owe more than $120,000 in 2015—the first year this proportion crossed the 50% threshold.

[i]. Proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $100k

100k by affiliation 3

[ii]. Proportion of respondents who expected to owe more than $120K

120k deby by affiliation


LSSSE Annual Results: Ten Years of (Ever-rising) Law Student Debt

This is the first in a series of posts centered around data from the 2015 LSSSE Survey administration and the 2015 Annual Report, which provides a retrospective glimpse into law student debt trends over a 10-year period, using survey years 2006 and 2015 as bookends. Survey year 2011 will be used as a midpoint in much of the analyses—2011 is noteworthy because a record number of students—157,298—enrolled in U.S. law schools that year. This post discusses the increase in law student debt over the 10-year period.

The vast majority of law students— almost 90%, according to LSSSE Survey data and estimates by the American Bar Association—rely on student loans to finance their education. The typical law school graduate is part of a relatively rarefied group of debtors with student loan balances approaching, if not exceeding $100,000. In 2012, the average debt for graduates of private law schools was $127,000; $88,000 for public law school graduates. These amounts represented inflation-adjusted increases of one-quarter and one-third respectively in just seven years.

The LSSSE Survey asks respondents the following question:

“How much educational debt from attending law school do you expect to have upon your graduation?”

In order to account for the inherent imprecision of speculating about the future, the response options appearing on the survey are presented mostly as ranges in $20,000 intervals, with two outer options:

  • $0
  • $1- $20,000
  • $20,001 – $40,000
  • $40,001 – $60,000
  • $60,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $100,000
  • $100,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

For much of the analyses in this series of posts, the six intermediate ranges are compressed into three $40,000 ranges, with the outer options remaining the same:

  • $0
  • $1- $40,000
  • $40,001 – $80,000
  • $80,001 – $120,000
  • More than $120,000

Unsurprisingly, over the 10-year timeframe, increasing proportions of LSSSE respondents reported expecting high law school debt.  In 2006, 32% of respondents expected to incur more than $100,000 in debt during their law school matriculation.  By 2011, that proportion had increased to 44%, a level at which it remained in 2015.  The differences in expected debt were particularly acute at the highest level—more than $120,000.  Roughly 30% of respondents in both 2011 and 2015 expected debt above $120,000, compared to 16% in 2006.

An analysis of the subgroups of “high-debt” respondents really highlights the prevailing trends.  We measured the proportional split between respondents who expected to owe $100,001-$120,000 and those who expected to owe more than $120,000.  In 2006, 51% of respondents in this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000 (leaving 49% expecting to owe $100,001-$120,000).  By 2015, 67% of this high-debt subgroup expected to owe more than $120,000.