An increasing number of law school students expect a hike in debt and debt-related stress, according to findings from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), a ten-year study conducted by the Indiana University Center for Post Secondary Research.
The study, released on March 7, is designed to glean the perceptions of future attorneys rather than those of the profession itself.
"One of the central aims of LSSSE is to provide valid and reliable insights about legal education, from the perspective of students," said Aaron Taylor, LSSSE's director and an assistant professor at St. Louis University Law School. "We are particularly interested in student perceptions of the effects and impacts of their law school experiences." The LSSSE Survey has included almost 300,000 students from 190 law schools in the U.S., Canada and Australia since 2004. Taylor claimed this was the largest such dataset in the field. He added that the survey "focuses on teaching, learning, and interactive methods that extensive research conclude are linked to student performance."
The study covers 2006 to 2015. It found that 11% of 2006 respondents going to public law schools expected their loan balances to hit $100,000 at graduation. By 2015, this percentage nearly tripled to 31%. The percentage of students at private law schools anticipating $100,000 in debt increased from 38% in 2006 to 50% in 2015. Of those who expected to borrow $100,000, 67% expected to graduate with balances north of $120,000.
The study found that LSAT scores were a predictor of law school indebtedness.
In 2006, 16% of students responding to the survey with the LSAT scores of 155 or below expected to owe more than $120,000. About the same proportion of students with LSATs of 155 and above expected to have similar loan balances. In succeeding years, however, more students with lower LSATs anticipated more than $120k in debt. By 2015, 37% of students with LSATs of 155 or below expected to have $120K in debt, compared to 20% for those with scores of 155 or above.
LSSSE turned up increasing correlation between race and ethnicity and the amount of money law school students borrow.
In 2006, the survey found only marginal differences among racial and ethnic groups and the expectation of having debt of $100,000 or more. By 2015, 61% of black respondents and 56% of Latino respondents expected this level of debt, compared to about 40% of white and Asian respondents.