Written by The Commentator Editorial Board
Recently, a new class of students started at the Law School. While they attended orientation, befriended new classmates, and began their legal career, most of them probably missed the fact that they are paying nearly five percent more in tuition and fees for their first year of law school than when they accepted NYU’s offer in the spring.
New York University has come under fire for its undergraduate tuition hikes. And we commend President Andrew Hamilton’s efforts to stem the tide. However, the cost of a legal education at NYU should be setting off alarms, too. It now costs almost $90,000 per year to attend NYU Law, about $60,000 of which goes towards tuition.
The tuition hikes are unacceptable. As NYU Law works to elevate its status as a top law school, it must also renew its focus on keeping tuition within reasonable limits. The cost of hiring new faculty, developing new programs, and purchasing cutting-edge technology should be a collective investment that propels students forward, not a burden that holds them back.
This summer, some law firms increased their starting salaries for associates by as much as $20,000. While this can help alleviate the debt burden for those students who pursue private-sector careers, it is no excuse for raising tuition on the front-end. Recent history reminds us that law students cannot rely on the viability of Big Law. So, the assumption that students will be able to reliably work off their hefty debt misses the point that raising tuition itself can have detrimental effects on the law school community.
The argument that students will be able to repay their student loans after a few years at a large firm dismisses the nearly 20 percent of students in the class of 2018, for instance, who entered law school with an interest in pursuing a public interest career. It also ignores the countless number of brilliant potential students, especially students from diverse backgrounds in a profession devoid of much diversity, who were deterred from pursuing a degree at NYU Law because of the school’s ticket price.
At its core, this kind of feedback cycle doubles down on the status quo at the student body’s expense. It benefits law firms who can attract the most intelligent, capable future lawyers. It allows the school to maintain its competitive status. But it is also a system that requires those who have the least to pay the most, and that’s not a fair shake. That runs contrary to the values of this community. Simply put, that is not NYU.
NYU Law must redouble its efforts to stay the rising cost of tuition. As NYU strives to be more competitive globally and more people look to NYU as a leader in legal education, the more urgent and important matter is that the school make the cost of attendance a priority. Not addressing the issue could have long-lasting effects on the law school community, including impeding our ability to remain the leading “private university in the public service.”
NYU needs to take a hard look at the way it is paying for legal education. The NYU community – and the legal profession – would be better off for it.