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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Economics of Columbia Law School

Paul Campos has an interesting post at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, in which he discusses the changes in (inflations) adjusted tuition, endowment and annual giving revenue for Columbia's law school.  I thought it would be interesting to put the distribution of revenues in percentage terms, and revenue per enrolled student.



% from

% from Endowment
% from
Revenue per Enrolled
$25.6 Mill.
$59.4 Mill.
$114.2 Mill.
(In 2016 $$)

Strikingly, there has been little change in the percentage distribution of revenue sources.  Tuition is up a little, and use of endowment income is down a little.  But, overall revenue per student has increased by a factor of 3.  [Enrollment has increased from 1,050 (1975) to 1,350 (1996) and to 1,460 (2015).]  Where has the money gone?  Unfortunately, Campos does not tell  us.  However, the Chronicle of Higher Education data base lists full professors at Columbia University (not just the Law School) as earning $201,400 in 2014-15.  The earliest year in their data base has Columbia fulls at $131,900 in 2003-04.  (Columbia has apparently not participated in surveys of law school salaries.)  So faculty salaries at Columbia, overall, grew in real terms by about 1.4% per year between 2003 and 2015.  If that rate of growth holds for the entire 1975-2015 period, then average law school salaries would have increased by about 76% between 1975  and 2015.

Columbia has about 125 full-time faculty now, or about 1 for every 12 students (The school also employs a large number of part-time, adjunct, and other faculty; the total list is about 450 people with one sort of academic rank or another.)  I suspect both that the number of full-time faculty and the  number of total faculty have grown more rapidly than enrollment, although in the case of full-time faculty, probably not much faster.  A constant student-faculty ratio would suggest about 88 f-t faculty in 1975 and 110 in 1995.  But I would bet that the number of other-than-f-t faculty (currently about 325) has increased much more rapidly than enrollment.  Let's suggest, then, that faculty salaries as a budget line would have tripled between 1975 and 1995 (or, given the likely growth in non-full-time ranks, perhaps even quadrupled).  Given the 40% increase in enrollment, faculty salaries per enrolled student have increased by something like 50%.

Where has the rest come from?  I suspect that administrative positons have grown more rapidly than faculty positions (and perhaps salaries have grown more rapidly as well).  The Law School, as is true of almost every academic program everywhere, has had to make large, and on-going, investments in technology. But the tripling of law school revenue per enrolled student seems extraordinary (and note that tuition per enrolled student has slightly more than tripled).  That probably is not, in the long-run, a positive outcome for Columbia Law School students, or for the School itself.


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