Tuition at Albany Law School will increase 3 percent this fall to $45,882 for incoming and second-year students, school officials announced in an email to students Saturday.
The board of trustees met last Friday to set tuition rates. Tuition for third-year students will be $45,436 and tuition for fourth-year students, who pay three-quarters of the full rate, will be $34,007.
School leaders offered few explanations for the increase beyond the need to balance the school's financial responsibilities with the educational needs of the student body.
"The decision to increase tuition is never made lightly," said President and Dean Alicia Ouellette in the email. "Recognizing the significant financial stress that students and prospective students are under, the board and administration sought to keep the 2017-2018 increase as small as possible while ensuring that we continue to deliver a first-rate legal education."
School officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday. According to the email sent Saturday, Ouellette and other deans at the school will be available to answer questions about the increase at an open session in early March.
"I can assure you that the faculty, staff and administration are working hard to achieve efficiencies and keep costs down for our students without affecting the educational mission of the school and the direct services students receive," Ouellette said.
The cost of a legal education has been on the rise since 1985 and far exceeds the rate of inflation, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that pushes for transparency in the legal professions. In 2013, the average law school tuition was $41,985.
The average debt load, meanwhile, for students who graduated from public law schools in 2014 was $84,000, according to the American Bar Association. Graduates from private law schools had about $122,000 worth of debt.
Albany Law students say they were caught off-guard by the news of a tuition increase, which came early Saturday morning.
Justin Devendorf, a first-year student, said many students at Albany Law, including himself, rely on student loans to finance their education.
"Although the increase is only a few thousand dollars, if the school wishes to increase our tuition, then I truly hope the caliber of legal education students expect to receive from Albany Law School increases as well," he said. "Otherwise the only result you will see is students being saddled with more debt."
The school saw more students pass the bar exam last year, the first year that New York switched from a state-specific exam to a uniform bar exam offered by at least two-dozen other states.
At Albany Law School, 83 percent of first-time test takers passed the July 2016 bar exam — up 14.5 percent from the previous year.
Founded in 1851, it is the oldest law school in New York. In 2015, it announced an affiliation with the University at Albany that would allow the schools to share resources with cross disciplinary offerings and in registration, research, grant seeking and technology infrastructure. Both schools said the goal was to ultimately find savings that could be passed on to students.
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