While this year’s updates to the Legal Education Data Deck contain the most recent publicly available data on access, affordability and value, it is important to note that these data predate the COVID-19 pandemic and growing energy behind social movements calling for racial justice. In the wake of these events, law schools and jurisdictions are implementing and exploring new policies and practices to better serve students and society. While data on the efficacy and impact of these interventions remain to be seen, history and context can sufficiently illuminate gaps in law school access, affordability and value to guide these efforts. To that end, AccessLex offers the Legal Education Data Deck to showcase available law school data from publicly available sources, and to provide context and commentary on national law school trends.
This latest version of the Data Deck shows that as the number of law school applicants continues to increase, law schools are becoming slightly more selective in who they admit. This increased selectivity has further widened gaps in access for historically underrepresented students. The gap in admissions rates between white students versus those for Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino students increased from 29 and 15 percentage points in 2016 to 30 and 17 percentage points in 2019.
Concerns around equity do not end in the admissions process but continue into students’ law school experiences. New to the Data Deck this year are slides examining the racial and ethnic composition of students who withdraw from law school and the concentration of underrepresented minorities’ enrollments at a small number of schools. In 2018, the most recent year of data available, minority students comprised 38 percent of enrollment but made up 47 percent of withdrawals between their first and second year of school.
The Data Deck also offers new analyses of affordability, which show that the number of schools offering conditional scholarships has decreased over the last few years, with only 43 percent of schools offering these scholarships in 2018 compared to 61 percent in 2013. However, the share of the first-year class receiving these scholarships has remained relatively unchanged since initial reports in 2011. The new analyses also include an examination of grant aid, which indicate law schools are providing greater tuition discounting to students. Although tuition and fees have increased in the last few years, median grant amounts have increased, along with the proportion of students receiving aid. However, these aggregate reports mask potential inequities within grant aid distribution.
Finally, the Data Deck update shares bar passage results from 2019. First-time bar passage reached 76 percent, up from 72 percent in 2018. This improvement was widespread, with most jurisdictions seeing an increase in the share of takers passing the bar on their first attempt. However, given the challenges associated with administering the bar exam amid the pandemic, the outcomes of 2020 and the reporting of these results remain to be seen. For now, AccessLex has created the “Exploring Bar Performance” dashboard to enable stakeholders to easily view and benchmark bar exam pass rates at the institutional and jurisdictional levels. We will continuously update this tool as new data become available.
In these times of uncertainty and swift change, detailed data collection and reporting is critical to ensuring that law schools, policymakers and other stakeholders learn from these real-time experiments. Further, disaggregated reporting is paramount considering the potential for unintended and disparate impacts on access to law school and the legal profession. For instance, many jurisdictions have been reluctant to report bar passage rates by race/ethnicity and other candidate characteristics. However, disaggregating bar passage data would be valuable in determining the extent to which new practices and policies broadened or limited bar applications and admission, and for whom. We should engage with these questions not to embarrass or deride specific states or institutions, but to inform and improve our collective systems and processes.