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Law Schools Have Not Yet Hit Bottom

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LSAC has announced a 6.6% increase in June LSAT takers, which could indicate more applicants for the next 1L class.

The National Law Journal has reported that "Legal educators are cautiously optimistic that the 2015-16 academic year will mark the low point for law school enrollment."

Al Brody at The Faculty Lounge has repeatedly speculated that the enrollment numbers have hit bottom.

Brian Leiter even made it "official," stating "It's official, the enrollment decline is over!"

 

To quote Jaime Lannister, "The war's not won."

Even if enrollment numbers reverse direction and increase next year, we still won't have hit bottom. The reason is quite simple: students (typically) stay in law school for 3 years. When that math enters the calculation, we can see how far from the bottom schools really are.

In 2013 there were 59,400 applicants, in 2014 there were 55,700, and for 2015 there's a predicted 54,130. If there should end up being a 6.6% increase in applicants for 2016, the numbers would only rise to 57,700. That's more than the 2015 number, but the appropriate number to compare it to is 2013. That is the cohort of students the new 1Ls are replacing, and in that comparison the numbers are still lower.

Looking at a few schools' enrollment stats illustrates how we're not yet at the bottom. Let's project a 2% decline in 2015, followed by a 6% increase in 2016.

At Golden Gate, the 2013-2014-2015 numbers are 150-137-134, total 421. The 2014-2015-2016 numbers would then be 137-134-142, total 413. Despite seeing the 1L class increase by 6%, the total enrollment would still decline by 2%.

At American university the 13-14-15 numbers would be 473-429-420, and 14-15-16 would be 429-420-445. Some quickie math confirms that 473 is larger than 445, indicating a total decline of 28 students despite a 1L class size increase of 25 students.

At Florida International we're looking at 158-144-141, total 443, and then 144-141-149, total 434.

It's certainly not every school that's going to be grinding along the bottom for at least an extra year before they can say "It's official, the enrollment decline is over." But, if the school saw its 2014 class decrease by 4% or more compared to 2013, then it should be predicting an even smaller total enrollment in the 2016-17 school year, not an increase.

Many schools will see this be their worst year. Indeed, some schools already have their worst years behind them. But that's not where the real action is. The schools most likely to see a decline next year are also the ones that have already slipped the furthest. We'll see some school's conditions go from Serious to Fair, or Fair to Good, but the schools we should be looking at are the ones in Critical condition. It's not yet safe to say they'll be upgraded to Serious, rather than downgraded to Deceased.


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