More Analysis of Law School Debt and Earnings Data

After reviewing and writing about the data available for law school graduates in the Wall Street Journal tool, I planned to review the data for medical school graduates and write a similar report.

While reviewing the medical school data, I paused when I reached the colleges whose names begin with the letter “D.” At that point, I realized that one of my alma maters, Duke University, was not listed.

Reviewing the list of law schools, I noticed that Duke was not included there as well. Based on the criteria published by the Department of Education, Duke University’s law school and medical school data should have been included.

I wrote one of the WSJ reporters and asked if there was a chance that they had a Tarheel on their staff (full disclosure – as a Duke alum, that was the first explanation I thought of that Duke Law School and Duke Medical School would have been left off the lists – not really, but I have too many Carolina friends to not mention this). I found out that the WSJ staff had downloaded the datafile directly from the College Scorecard.

A quick review of the College Scorecard datafile provided me with my answer. The data was split between the doctoral degree and the first professional degree for Duke’s law degrees (lines 124693 and 124694) and its medical degrees (lines 124810 and 124811), with the number of graduates listed for the first professional degrees and the debt and earnings listed for the doctoral degrees. This split meant that Duke’s first professional degrees were not included in the tool developed by the WSJ.

With a spreadsheet listing more than 200,000 lines of data, I did not want to try to figure out if there were other omissions by reviewing the file on a line-by-line basis. Since the American Bar Association (ABA) accredits law schools in the U.S., I went to their website to ascertain the number of accredited law schools.

Per the site, the ABA has accredited 199 law schools. My count of law schools listed in the WSJ tool indicated a total of 158. A few hours later, I had determined that the following law schools are not listed in the tool:

  • Albany Law School
  • Arizona State University
  • Baylor University (one of my cousins is a tenured professor in the law school)
  • Belmont University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Cornell University
  • University of Dayton
  • University of the District of Columbia
  • Duke University
  • Florida International University
  • Georgetown University
  • University of Illinois – Chicago
  • University of Illinois – main campus
  • Lewis and Clark University
  • Liberty University
  • Loyola University – New Orleans
  • University of Massachusetts
  • McGeorge University
  • Mercer University
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of New Mexico
  • Oklahoma University
  • Penn State University – Dickinson Campus
  • University of Puerto Rico
  • Rutgers University
  • University of South Dakota
  • State University of New York
  • University of North Texas – Dallas (provisional)
  • University of Vermont
  • Vermont Law School
  • Western New England University
  • Western State University
  • Widener University – Delaware
  • Thomas M. Cooley
  • Yale University

These schools account for 35 of the 41 law school gap between the tool and the ABA total of 199. There may be some duplicity in these names or the names in the database. I also noted a few schools listed in the tool that were not listed by the ABA, but the count of the actual schools listed by the ABA totaled 171 versus their statement that they accredit 199.

Clearly, it’s important that the law school data included in the College Scorecard database under first professional degree reflect all the law schools that are large enough to be included. I’ll forward this analysis to a friend of mine at the Department of Education to see if the dataset can be corrected.

As I stated in my previous article, it’s a travesty that so few law schools keep their costs low enough to enable their graduates to borrow less and earn enough to repay their student loans. Brian Tamanaha, author of Failing Law Schools, assigned some of the responsibility for high law school tuition to its accrediting body, the ABA. Since he’s a professor and former interim dean, I’ll accept his explanations.

To the ABA’s credit, they require each law school accredited by them to report admissions data through a 509 report, an employment outcomes report, and a bar passage outcomes report. The College Scorecard data of median debt and median earnings would provide a more comprehensive and more transparent disclosure, particularly if the data was reconciled to the data reported to the ABA by every law school.

Prospective law students will benefit by having access to more data about the outcomes for graduates of U.S. law schools. At the same time, it’s important that the data files are reviewed for accuracy. I look forward to the seeing improvements in reporting from the WSJ tool as well as from the ABA.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence