The January 2005 National Jurist has striking data on which law schools have raised tuition the most in the last ten years; unsurprisingly, state schools dominate the list (yet most still remain far cheaper than their peer privates). Strikingly, the University of California law schools are four of the top ten! Here are the ten law schools that have raised tuition the most between 1993 and 2003; next to each school's name is the percentage increase and the 03-04 (resident) tuition.
1. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (589.7% increase, $10,429)
2. University of Hawaii (376.2% increase, $10,942)
3. University of California, Davis (294.5%, $17,195)
4. University of California, Los Angeles (277.8%, $17,012)
5. University of Arizona (272.9%, $10,604)
6. University of California, Berkeley (269.1%, $16,294)
7. University of California, Hastings (257.7%, $15,615)
8. University of Washington, Seattle (242.6%, $13,630)
9. Arizona State University (235.6%, $9,545)
10. University of Idaho (214.7%, $6,696)
Of the other top state law schools besides Berkeley and UCLA, Michigan--which is already de facto private (in terms of state support and percentage of state residents)--had the lowest increase during the 10-year period, of 123.5%. But that still left it with an eye-popping tuition of $27,884, higher than many private law schools, and just a few thousand less than the top private law school that raised tuition the most over the last decade, Northwestern (which increased 86.5%, to $33,896). Virginia, which has also become de facto private, raised tuition the most, 214.4%, for a 2003-04 tuition of $23,798. Texas was in the middle, raising tuition 159.4%, but coming in with a rather modest $11,462 2003-04 tuition, making it (happily) still the cheapest of the top law schools.
Indeed, with the exception of Michigan and Virginia, the other notable fact remains how much cheaper the state schools still are by comparison to the privates. Harvard Law School, for example, ranked 104th for largest 10-year increase (76.4%), but comes in with a typical top private school tuition of $32,392. Emory, at 100th (78.8% increase), charged $30,692 in 2003-04: triple North Carolina and double Hastings, schools that might be deemed reasonably comparable state-supported schools. Northwestern, as we saw, is nearly double UCLA, and triple Texas.
Also striking is that some traditionally strong state law schools have not raised tuition nearly as much as others (typically because of legislative prohibitions on doing so). Wisconsin, for example, came in at 50th, raising tuition a "mere" 119.8%, and charging a very modest $9,557 in 2003-04. Colorado came in at 83rd, with a tuition hike of 88.2% over the decade, and an even more modest $7,645 in tuition in 03-04. But Colorado has also been bleeding faculty (in both law and philosophy), a fact not unrelated to the low tuition, and Wisconsin has been punished in U.S. News because of its low per capita expenditures (and lower-than-average salaries compared to peer schools), also a function of the low tuitions.
The writing on the wall is, sadly, clear: those "state" schools that follow the University of California system model (or, at the extreme, the Michigan and Virginia models) will thrive over the next decade, those that don't, won't. But the equally predictable outcome is that a decade from now, the tuition gap between nominally public and genuinely private law schools is likely to be very modest, much like the gap between Michigan and Northwestern today.
UPDATE: A reader familiar with the situation at Colorado writes:
There is a significant tuition increase effective the current academic year, after the survey period. It has now gone to about $11,000 for in-state and some $26,000 for out-of-state. See here. They are also increasing class size somewhat. In addition, they have finally secured the funding for a new building, which will be complete in time for the 06-07 academic year. (Much of that funding comes from the University).
This is bad news, as you suggested, for the continued existence of low-cost alternatives of reasonable quality (though Colorado is still a bargain, even for out-of-staters, only because everything is relative). But as you also suggested, it is probably necessary in the current climate, and probably good news for the school's faculty quality going forward.