St. Louis law school is latest to ditch tuition for low-income students

The top of the cap of a graduating student is pictured during their graduation ceremony at UC San Diego in San Diego
The top of the cap of a graduating student is pictured during their graduation ceremony. Picture taken on June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
  • Washington University in St. Louis will offer full scholarships based on family income
  • Yale and Stanford's law schools have similar programs

Washington University in St. Louis School of Law plans to eliminate tuition for low-income students, making it the third U.S. law school to announce such a program since February.

Starting next fall, all new students whose family income is less than 200% of the federal poverty line will receive full-tuition scholarships, the school said this week. Tuition is currently $64,488 a year.

The federal poverty line is now $13,590 for a single person, and $​27,750 for a family of four. That means an applicant from a family of four earning below $55,000 annually would qualify for a full scholarship at Washington University's law school.

"We just think it's the right thing to do," said law dean Russell Osgood in an interview Wednesday, noting that his school aims to be a bigger destination for non-wealthy students.

Typically, 15 to 20 students in a class of about 260 come from families with incomes below the $55,000 mark, Osgood said. He hopes that will double to 30 or 40 with the new scholarship program.

Yale Law School in February was the first the announce an income-based full scholarship program, which is now covering tuition costs for 51 students. Dean Heather Gerken said at the time that she hoped it would be replicated by other schools. Stanford Law School unveiled a similar program in May.

The University of California Berkeley School of Law in May said it will cover all tuition for current and future students who are both California residents and members of federally registered tribes, regardless of their income status. That program is intended to bolster the school’s Native American enrollment.

The new scholarship program at Washington University’s law school, which is ranked No. 16 by U.S. News & World Report, has a higher income threshold than Yale and Stanford’s existing programs, meaning a larger percentage of students may qualify. Yale students must be from a family with income below the federal poverty line and with assets below $150,000 in order to participate. Stanford’s program is for students from families that have income that falls below 150% of the federal poverty line, which works out to $41,625 for a family of four.

Washington University's guaranteed scholarships are projected to cost $1 million or more next year, which could rise to more than $3 million once three classes of students are receiving them, Osgood said.

"I hope other schools will do this," he said. "Traditionally, legal education in the United States has been for middle-class and upper-class families. That has started to change as we become more generous with financial aid."

Read more:

Yale Law says it will cover tuition for low-income students

Stanford Law scraps all tuition for low-income students, joining Yale

Berkeley Law to eliminate tuition for Native American students

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at