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Summary of Dean’s Town Hall on Tuition, Financial Aid, and Accessibility

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Author’s Note (Brendan Stevens): Any errors or omissions in the following summary are entirely my own.

The Dean began at roughly 12:35pm with a 15-minute introduction and then fielded questions until roughly 1:40pm.

Introduction

The Dean first stated that one of her primary goals is to attract the best students by (1) offering the strongest program; (2) ensuring that we remain accessible regardless of financial need; (3) ensuring that career choices are not distorted by tuition; and (4) ensuring that our school reflects the diversity of Canadian communities.

When she became Dean, Moran pledged to be moderate on tuition, which she said meant increasing tuition at a level above academic inflation (which the Globe apparently pegs between 6-8%) but below a double-digit percentage increase. Modest tuition increases are not enough to meet the Administration’s goals – they must be augmented by fundraising and the Dean said she has pursued an aggressive fundraising strategy since taking on the role.

Since 2006, a lot has changed at UofT Law from the Dean’s perspective: amazing professors have been hired (for example, Niblett, Thorburn, Chiao, Dawood, Sanderson, Anand, L. Katz); new Administrative positions have been created (Associate Dean of the 1L Program, Assistant Dean, etc.); new support for the Aboriginal Law program has been introduced; a Student Program Coordinator has been added; the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights has been created; and funding has been increased for research and conferences, to name but a few examples. All of these actions were rooted in student consultation.

The Dean pointed out that having the best program is only one part of the equation – this program must also be accessible to the best students. The school has tried to achieve this through monitoring accessibility and diversity statistics and through administering a robust financial aid system.

But how do we measure these things? The following are things cited by the Dean as evidence that we are on a good trajectory as a law school:

  • Our yield rate (% of students that accept their offer of admission) is increasing: in 2004 it was 61%, in 2013 it is 69%. More students than ever are accepting their offer of admission, and our yield rate is comparable to the best law schools around the world.
  • The quality of the incoming class has never been stronger on all fronts.
  • Cultural diversity in the incoming class has been rising steadily. Outreach programs like LAWS, the free LSAT prep course, the low-income student fee waiver, and the aboriginal admissions stream are all geared toward increasing both the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the student body.
  • Based on postal code data (the efficacy of which has been linked to self-reported parental income levels on financial aid applications) the school has observed no change in the socio-economic diversity of the incoming class since 1999. The median household income since 1999 has remained around $70,000.
  • 41% of students receive bursaries through our financial aid program – the average bursary is $9,899 (in all 3 years)
    • The average cost of tuition for those receiving bursaries is $15,400
    • The average cost of tuition for all law students is $22,200
  • Over 96% of the most recent graduating class secured articles
  • In terms of career choices, Associate Dean Alarie discovered no correlation between tuition and career choice, which he says is consistent with empirical finding more generally (and in particular, a body of American literature). About 75% – 80% of our graduates begin their careers in law firms. About 15% take on government positions. These proportions have not changed since 2002, and apparently, the number of students starting their careers off in small or medium firms is increasing.
    • Associate Dean Alarie and Professor Niblett have also been tracking how career choice changes every 5 years for graduates. Apparently career trajectory has also remained largely unchanged over the period of study.

The Dean mentioned a few things stemming from the tuition petition review that were conducted since the spring of this year:

  • The Administration looked hard at all the evidence to make sure the school is on a good course and to ensure there were no unanticipated effects of rising tuition. The Administration will continue to be vigilant about monitoring accessibility, diversity, and career choice.
  • The Financial Aid Committee is conducting an in-depth review of the financial aid program.
  • A new Institutional Metrics Working Group has been created, aimed at taking a hard look at the various levers in play.

The Dean concluded by reiterating that we cannot take an eye off of continuing to improve the quality of our program.

 

Student Questions

Author’s Note: The following questions and answers have been paraphrased to the best of my ability – I was unable to keep up with the conversation to take verbatim notes:  

(1)   Is there a place for qualitative data in the analysis? For example, could we look at how someone’s career choices are affected by tuition anecdotally?

  • Associate Dean Alarie said it is better to focus on data showing actual behaviour, rather than claimed behaviour.

(2)   Is the data on career choice just gathered at the articling stage?

  • No, the data is collected both at the articling stage and then every five years (coinciding with reunion) to track how career choices evolve over time.

(3)    Is there a more differentiated category within “law firms” that can help us track specific choices?

  • The data is segmented into large, medium and small firms. There has been a shift away from larger firms and toward medium and small firms, although this is not a large shift. It is a positive sign that students appear to be finding niche organizations that match their interests more effectively now than they have in the past.

(4)   In your (the Dean’s) interview with UV, you said that 8% was the minimum level to tread water; now that the province has capped increases at 5%, where can you find the savings?

  • What I (the Dean) believe I said in the interview is that 8% was the level required to keep up with academic inflation and to do targeted enhancements to the program. Aggressive fundraising was also needed to achieve this. There is no doubt that we will not be able to do some of the things in the next couple of years that we thought we were able to do. For example, we cannot hire people to run clinical programs that we thought we could. We have to be careful in hiring new faculty. We spend most of our money on people; we can’t hire people if we don’t have resources to do it; there will be a perceptible difference based on the decrease from 8% to 5%. I am committed to trying to make sure that we minimize the detrimental impact that will come from this difference in funding.

(5)   I’m not clear what the end goal of maximizing tuition is. You’ve said the goal is to provide the best law school in Canada, but aren’t we already doing that? You’ve also said you want to prevent the erosion of the program as it stands. This would be easier to believe if faculty salaries haven’t increased so dramatically, along with an increase in class sizes.

  • We don’t just want to be the best in Canada, we want to compete on the world stage. We lose more students to more expensive American law schools than we do to cheaper Canadian law schools. For students, it is incredibly important to have outstanding faculty members. Tuition has to increase to meet these objectives.

(6)   54% of my unmet financial need was covered by financial aid in 1L. In 2L, this amount dropped to 35%. Now it is 30% in 3L. What is being done to give students some semblance of what their financial aid is going to be from year to year?

  • One of the things that we heard from students is that it is important to take a hard look at how the financial aid system is working; we increased back end debt relief, for example; be a part of the consultation on financial aid because we are going to gather student experiences, respond to them, and make sure that we are doing everything that we can to ensure it is responsive. You mention an important issue that needs to be addressed.

(7)    What is the increase in the financial aid budget relative to the tuition increase?

  • This is something that we need to look at more closely; this information will be forthcoming.

(8)   Where can we find more information about some of the metrics we’ve been discussing? Will the Administration publish more information?

  • The financial aid report that is given to faculty council presents a wealth of information about the things we’ve been discussing. If the info is not available we are willing to work with students on publishing it in an effective manner.

(9)   Is maintaining the status quo in terms of career choice a good enough goal in light of the access to justice crisis?

  • We have done proactive work on access to justice, but obviously it remains a huge problem. We are trying to develop models whereby students choose not just from large firms, private practice or legal aid but something in the middle. We are trying to use the leadership we have as an institution to broaden the number of career choices available to students.

(10) You have said that the tuition increases are acceptable and reasonable. Students have also been clear that these increases are not reasonable. Have you ever asked for any increases in funding from the province or from the university?

  • I (the Dean) have engaged in this advocacy and I have been successful doing it. The university makes a major contribution to our base budget. The university also made a major contribution to the building project so that all the funds didn’t come out of the operating budget of the law school. I have worked with other law deans to advocate for more funding; provincial contributions are abysmally low.

(11)  What is the rationale for prohibiting international students from accessing financial aid?

  • This policy was developed to bring the law school into compliance with broader university policies. International students don’t get any government funding. We have advocated as a university that the province of Ontario ought to support international students; at the moment, the government does not give institutions any funding for international students.

(12) None of us have been to other law schools that have lower tuition. What are some of the things that UofT students get that other Ontario law students don’t get?

  • Our articling placement rate is by far the best in the country; our faculty-student ratio is also the best (Dean Flanagan from Queen’s is on record saying he wants to raise tuition to compete with UofT in this regard, but since he is prohibited by the province from doing so he is increasing the incoming class size at Queen’s); we have the Asper Centre for constitutional rights; we have more diverse international travel opportunities and a better international human rights program; we offer a good level of support for students, although it could be better; our course list is far better in terms of breadth and depth than our Canadian competitors; and we have better support for career development.

(13)  Although we have published statistics saying that 1 in 3 people at the law school are persons of colour, this does not reflect my view of the reality of our law school. Also, what about the intersection between racial diversity and socio-economic status?

  • It is very important for us to be diverse and inclusive amongst a whole range of different measures; you’re pointing to the fact that there might still be a class issue and we are committed to analyzing it further. However, the law school has come a long way since when I (the Dean) first arrived at the school. We have a long way to go, but we have come a long way too.

(14)  Are you lobbying the government to increase the cap on tuition?

  • I have not engaged in that advocacy, and I do not plan to.

(15)  The level of tuition was set by Governing Council and there was no student consultation before or after that. What meaningful consultations will take place? I signed the petition because I couldn’t afford not to get a job – this is a stress that has pervaded the whole law school experience.

  • I have a responsibility as Dean to create a great program and tuition increases are essential to that, but that picture is inevitably accompanied by a great financial aid program. We are committed to supporting students in coping with this anxiety in a variety of ways.

(16)   There have been a ton of great suggestions of additional metrics that the Administration can track. Are you going to do this? For example, the % of unmet need is not tracked. Will you track it?

  • This is already captured in the financial aid report.
  • Follow up question: what about the intersection of race and socio-economic class?
    • Answer: We have started to track more in-depth information in regards to race for the current 1L class.
  • Follow up question: what about actual family income?
    • Answer: Aladdin has collected every single financial aid application since 1997. There is an excellent correlation between the data that was self-reported on these applications in regard to family income and census data pertaining to average household income that is linked to postal codes which students provide when applying to the school. We are very confident in this data. Don’t feel like this is your last chance to get more information. There are ongoing discussions about a variety of institutional metrics and financial aid.
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