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The Wise Man’s Burden

Will universities in the United States soon be populated solely by the uber rich and elite varsity athletes? It’s an Orwellian scenario that might happen in our lifetimes.

Philosopher Robert Paul Wolff noted in a recent blog that

between 1978 and 2008, the cost of living rose roughly 330% … [but] over the same thirty years, tuition and fees at four year colleges rose about 980%. By way of comparison, during that three decades long stretch, medical costs, which of course have been soaring, rose a bit less than 600%. Thus, although medical costs rose somewhat less than twice as fast as inflation, tuition and fees at four year colleges actually rose three times as fast as inflation.

All of us hear the clarion call to post-secondary education. All of us read the studies that state (unanimously) that college graduates earn almost 70% more over the course of their working lives than non-grads. In a global economy, workers compete not only against local peers for jobs, but must prove themselves better than the best in the international community.

Slowly but surely nonetheless, most American universities are pricing the brightest minds right out of a shot at an education. President Obama, in a well-intentioned gesture to curb soaring tuition costs, suggested lowering federal aid to colleges whose costs grow too exorbitantly.  Of course, at the state level, the proposal has caused great consternation. But what else to do? Increasingly, university aid has been morphing from need-based awards to merit awards; this is fabulous if you’re a child from a crackerjack public school system like Weston or Andover, or if you’re a gridiron star, but less so if you’re a child from Lawrence, or if you led the Drama Club rather than lettering in baseball.

Community colleges are already sensing the need to expand. Northern Essex Community College is creating a benchmark medical campus in downtown Lawrence; similar moves are afoot by community colleges in New York City and Chicago.

Richard Longworth of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently noted that at the least, colleges should trim unnecessary costs, such as expensive recreational facilities, new dorms, fancy dining halls and, certainly, the indefensible outlays on major athletics. He also suggests that the wiser law schools are thinking of ways to combine undergraduate work with law school, thus shortening the tenure spent earning a JD.

But what if a small new college in Salem NH and an innovative law school in Andover MA had already anticipated the ideas of the best minds in economics and education—and had already spearheaded a model for post-secondary undergraduate and legal education in the 21st century?

The forthcoming (Spring) issue of Prelaw Magazine quotes a National Jurist study, which demonstrates that the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, the institution which created The American College of History and Legal Studies, has not only anticipated the educational trends that most law school are just beginning to ponder—MSL has set the benchmark. Massachusetts School of Law is #1 on a list of excellent law schools which have the lowest tuition growth.

Tuition growth by %
University of the District of Columbia 32.9%
St. Thomas University School of Law 45.0%
St. Mary’s University School of Law 48.1%
Catholic University 52.6%
Stetson University College of Law 55.9%
South Texas College of Law 56.2%
University of Miami School of Law 57.3%
Boston College Law School 58.2%
University of St. Thomas, Mn 59.2%
Loyola University Chicago 59.2%
Nova Southeastern University 60.1%
Western State University 60.1%
New York University 60.6%
University of Dayton School of Law 61.7%
University of Montana 61.7%
University of San Francisco 63.1%
Boston University School of Law 63.1%
Willamette University 63.2%
George Washington University 63.8%

The article notes that while many schools are now taking steps to cut tuition increases, Massachusetts School of Law has always kept a sharp eye on expenses.   “We are very cost conscious,” said Dean Lawrence Velvel. “We exist to serve those who are not among the wealthy.”

A colleague of mine at another university noted that his own daughter just spent over a thousand dollars—for textbooks—this semester. “That’s a mortgage payment,” he noted. What recourse for those who are fed up?

Students can complain about tuition (which changes nothing), skip college (and potentially cripple earning potential), assume a debt load that will take decades to resolve—or choose an innovative alternative. Whether it’s simply to complete a BA, or to earn the “Swiss Army Knife” of all graduate degrees at MSL (see “600 Things to Do with a Law Degree, Even if You Don’t Want to Practice Law” ), the American College of Legal Studies is the thinking man (and woman’s) alternative—and like our founding institution, we’re ahead of our time.

About The Author: Andrea DeFusco-Sullivan is the Assistant Dean and Director of the Writing Program at The American College of History and Legal Studies.

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