In recent weeks we've made a couple of visits to our friends at Rutgers-Camden, where we found them struggling to fill even half their normal incoming class, offering to admit people who had never applied, and soliciting applications from people who had never considered going to law school.
Here's a question an enterprising journalist somewhere in the vicinity of the Garden State might wish to pursue: Why do graduates of Rutgers-Camden's law school purportedly have such extraordinarily low levels of law school debt?
How low? Well for its class of 2011 Rutgers-C reported a mean debt of $27,423. And this was no one-year anomaly: the school reported mean debt of $28K and $32K for its graduating classes of 2009 and 2010.
While Rutgers-Camden is a fairly inexpensive law school, it still charges more than $25K per year in resident tuition and $37K for non-residents. And while scenic Camden is not nearly as expensive as some East Coast enclaves, it's not nearly as cheap as going to school in the middle of flyover country. Per LST, the non-discounted debt-financed cost of attending the school for the class of 2015 (assuming there is one) will be $151K for residents and $192K for non-residents.
Could it be that Rutgers-Camden gives out extraordinary amounts of scholarship aid? To the contrary, according to the ABA Rutgers-Camden only gave scholarship money to 28.3% of its students in 2011 (a much lower percentage than the average law school), and most of those grants were quite small: the median amount was only $5000.
Compare the school's reported graduate debt load to that of neighboring Temple Law School. Temple has a significantly cheaper sticker price -- less than $20K resident and $32K non-resident tuition -- and much more generous scholarship numbers: 46.2% of 2011 students got scholarship money, with a median amount 50% higher than that of students at Rutgers-Camden. Yet Temple's far lower cost structure produced an average law school debt for its 2011 graduating class of $80,871. (This is a typical average debt load for schools in this cost of attendance range. For example: Ohio State has in-state tuition of $26K and average graduate debt of $87K. Rutgers-Newark's numbers are $25K and $83K.. Texas charges $30K for in-state tuition but only 13% of students there pay sticker. Average graduating debt: $84K).
In theory it's possible that Rutgers-Camden is attended almost exclusively by children of wealthy families, who are generous enough to pay almost the entire cost of attendance. In practice that theory is preposterous on its face, especially given that Rutgers-Camden reports that 98% of its 2011 class graduated with law school debt (the national average for all law schools was 87%).
So what's going on at Rutgers-Camden? Perhaps Congressman Rob Andrews could launch an investigation. By, for example, asking his wife.
Update: Speaking of which.
Update II: One striking aspect of all this is that Rutgers-Camden fails to mention on its website that the members of the school's 2011 graduating class had 74% less debt than those of the average law school, and 67% less debt than those of its in-state public competitor, Rutgers-Newark. Indeed, if the numbers reported by Rutgers-Camden are correct, its graduates had less than half as much debt as the graduates of every other school in the top 100, with just two exceptions. You would think this is the sort of information the school would want prospective students to know.
Another striking aspect of the matter is that apparently no one on the Rutgers-Camden faculty has noticed these literally incredible figures -- or if they have, they haven't either corrected them or, if they're actually correct, insisted that the school broadcast them to the world.
Update III: Mystery solved. Compare this and this with this. So for at least the last three years Rutgers Camden has reported only one year's worth of average student debt to USNWR and the ABA, when it was supposed to be reporting three years total debt at graduation. This means the school has under-reported the debt of its graduates by a factor of three, which has led to a bunch of phony stories in the media about what a "great value" it is -- stories that the school hasn't bothered to correct, despite being aware of this error for at least four months now, if not longer. It hasn't even corrected its own press releases promoting these stories.
And the USNWR website -- which is the only public source for school-specific debt information -- still has the wrong numbers up. Awesome work Bob Morse & Co!
What a joke of a business.
Update IV: Georgia State appears to have made the same "mistake" for the past three years: it has reported average debt at graduation as $19K, $22K, and $19K from 2009 to 2011. Georgia State gives out very little in the way of scholarship money: only 23% of students are paying less than sticker, and the median grant is just $2500. The school has what counts these days as very low in-state tuition ($14K) and comparatively low out of state tuition ($32K), but given its cost structure and financial aid packages it seems almost certain that the school has under-reported the debt of its students at graduation by two-thirds.