Skip to navigationSkip to content

US students are fleeing law schools and pouring into engineering

AP/Chitose Suzuki
A shrinking group.
By Max Nisen
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

As part of its annual US graduate school rankings, US News has released data that tracks enrollment and tuition growth for the schools it ranks.

Despite substantially higher costs across the board, most disciplines have seen rising (rapidly, in the case of engineering) or steady enrollment. A notable exception is law school, for which enrollment is declining. Despite the tough climate for American law school graduates, tuition has continued to increase for the past decade. 

At private schools, tuition has risen by 66% since 2005. For public schools, it has more than doubled:

Enrollment has been driven down by tuition increases, declining salaries, and an overall contraction of the legal industry. US law school enrollment is 93% of what it was in 2005, and the decline has accelerated since 2012:

The decline in enrollment is even steeper when including schools outside the ones ranked by US News. A decline in people taking the standardized law school admissions test for US schools, the LSAT, indicates this will likely continue. Here’s a chart using data from the American Bar Association to track first-year enrollment across all schools:

Price hikes at US master’s in business administration programs have been even more aggressive. Private tuition has increased 72% since a decade ago, and public tuition is up 128% over the same period.

Overall enrollment hasn’t moved much over the past decade, aside from a slight uptick after the financial crisis, possibly when people who lost their jobs decided to go back to school:

A US graduate degree in engineering is substantially less expensive than law or business school, but tuition has still increased—growing 47% at private institutions since 2005, and 73% at public schools:

Engineering is the one graduate discipline that’s really exploded—enrollment has grown by 38% since 2005. It has substantially outpaced medical school, the second fastest growing graduate discipline, which has grow by 11% over the same period.

The shift reflects that, in the US, engineering degrees yield the highest salary bumps and the lowest unemployment rates:

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.