Is a Stanford Degree Worth It?

This is an unusual question. And yet, some commenters are asking whether it makes sense to spend 225k+ on a Stanford J.D.

This is also a fair question. It is the question all prospective students should ask themselves before investing in a legal education. No school – not even Stanford – is above accountability. No school can simply claim that its degree programs are worth the tuition charged. Every school must support these claims with information, and that information must be fairly and accurately disclosed to the consumer.

It may turn out that the Stanford J.D. is worth more than they presently charge. This appears to be what those at Stanford believe. From the Stanford Daily:

The Law School will implement a more dramatic increase in tuition, room and board. [Board President Leslie Hume] explained that the school was “under-pricing” itself relative to its competitors. “There was a feeling that we were delivering a quality product equal to or better than our competitors, and yet our tuition costs less,” she said.

(Read Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer’s clarification, where he explains that closing the tuition gap between Stanford and peer schools is due to a budget crunch and the school’s cost structure.)

The problem, as we have belabored, is that it is difficult to evaluate a degree’s value when a law school only provides information about entry-level jobs in the aggregate. While nobody would argue that a graduate’s first job is a complete measure of a J.D.’s earning power, it is a major consideration for prospective law students. These jobs mark the beginning of each graduate’s career trajectory; further, they provide at least some insight into the ability of graduates to begin repaying their debt. For many students, first job opportunities are at least as important as whether a program is offering an educational experience that is comparably better than those of other programs.

What is surprising for a top program is that Stanford does not provide up-to-date first job information on its website. The school does provide some employment information about the Class of 2006, Class of 2007, and Class of 2008. However, the Class of 2009 information – which has been available about a year – is missing. (Except a few, minimal facts.) Schools are also just about finished collecting Class of 2010 data, so we will keep an eye out to see whether Stanford joins a few other schools in making 2010 data public in a timely manner.

Perhaps Stanford’s administrators really do believe that they don’t have to answer, “Is a Stanford degree worth it?” We doubt they believe this, as it amounts to believing that prospective students don’t deserve to have the information they need to make informed decisions. The problem is that at least some people controlling tuition believe that the name on the degree, or even the J.D. itself, is enough information to justify its associated costs and to make an informed decision. And far more schools than Stanford act as if this is true. It demonstrates a disconnect between what schools consider relevant in terms of analyzing worth and what information prospectives need to make their own value assessment.

Nearly all ABA-approved law schools possess much more information about post-graduation outcomes than they share. But until they share it, prospectives should reasonably question why schools have chosen to maintain this information asymmetry, especially as schools keep choosing to increase tuition.

Related Coverage: Sewanee takes the lead, lowers tuition for its undergraduate students.