I've been blogging a bit about the financial challenges for public law schools, focusing particularly on Arizona State and Minnesota. UC Irvine has its own intriguing story which develops a bit more each year.
UCI has done a fabulous job recruiting great students and faculty. Part of their success, on the student front, flows from their aggressive discounting. Each of the 60 members of the Class of 2012 received a free ride. For the second cohort of 83 students - the Class of 2013 - the school offered a minimum 50% discount. And now UCI has announced that every student in the Class of 2014 will receive at least 33% off the tuition (which now stands at about $40,000 in-state and $50,000 out-of-state. )
It will be interesting to see what moment UCI picks to charge some students full freight. As it is, private schools (think Loyola and San Diego, to say nothing of Emory and Washington & Lee), non-California publics, and perhaps even a UC Davis can beat the effective tuition of UCI for particularly desirable students. Once some number of the class is required to write checks for $40-50K, UCI may discover that price is its enemy, rather than its friend.
Let's be clear. UCI will have no problem getting excellent students in any case; their challenge will be to maintain the stratospheric classes of the first two years. Consider this: while they maintained their phenomenal LSAT and GPA numbers from year 1 to year 2, they received 64% fewer applications to the law school in the second year. Some of that drop-off includes weaker students who unrealistically thought they'd have a great shot getting into a new school. But others are presumably strong applicants who sought the 100% discount - but were less interested in a 50% break.
As people closely interrogate the value of a legal education, price matters.