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MU School of Law ‘Thrifty Budget Plan’ leading to 32% reduction in student debt

Financial counseling program has contributed to School of Law’s recognition as a ‘best value’ by The National Jurist

November 28th, 2017

Story Contact: Liz McCune, 573-882-6212,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Through some recent proactive tactics, the University of Missouri School of Law is helping students lower the amount of money they borrow. During the past five years, the average debt load of Mizzou law school graduates declined by about $25,000—a 32 percent drop. The decline, from an average debt of $78,110 in 2012 to $53,480 in 2017, can be attributed to several factors, including increased scholarship offerings and the law school’s Thrifty Budget Plan, which was introduced in fall 2014.

The Thrifty Budget Plan encourages students to minimize the amount they take out in loans and to reduce expenses within their control such as money spent for transportation, housing, dining and personal expenses. Those financial decisions, which might seem small individually, can add up to big savings, Dean Lyrissa Lidsky said.

“Years ago, many students would take out the most they could in student loans without considering how those loans add up or how they could significantly impact their lives for years and even decades,” Lidsky said. “Today, legal education is very different and our students are increasingly focused on affordability.”

The plan was created and implemented by Mizzou Law’s financial aid coordinator, Jeff Turnbull, who is an accredited financial counselor. The plan includes financial counseling and students are advised to stick to a “thrifty budget” that is $7,000 less than the standard budget plan. Approximately 74 percent of students opt for the Thrifty Budget Plan.

“I tell the students upfront that certain expenses are fixed, such as tuition and fees, but many expenses are within their control,” Turnbull said. “Skipping that daily latte, having a roommate or riding the bus is a small inconvenience if it means you don’t have to be handcuffed with onerous debt for years after graduation.”

The program dovetails with several affordability measures that have been announced at Mizzou during the past year, including new scholarships and an online textbook initiative.

“As the daughter of teachers and a product of public schools, I am fully committed to making law school a viable option for all talented students,” Lidsky said. “I am passionate about this field and the difference our students can make in the world. This program is helping to make it possible for our students to consider jobs after graduation that speak to their passions, not just their pocketbooks.”

Due in part to these efforts, MU’s law school was recognized this fall as one of the nation’s best values by The National Jurist. The magazine, a leading news source in legal education, listed Mizzou Law in the top 15 percent of all U.S. law schools for the value it provides.

The rankings are designed to recognize schools with successful alumni who graduate with modest amounts of debt. MU’s placement is based on several factors, including the percentage of graduates who pass the bar, cost of tuition, cost of living, employment rate and average amount of debt upon graduation.

Mizzou Law is ranked 21st by The National Jurist. Two hundred law schools were evaluated.

Since 1872, Mizzou Law has produced well-rounded lawyers by offering them accessible, affordable legal education. In July 2017, Mizzou Law alumni taking the Missouri Bar Examination for the first time passed at a rate of 90.0 percent.

Graduates of the program are sensitive to ethical issues, prepared to serve clients and ready to be leaders in promoting justice for the State of Missouri and the nation. They practice in every county in Missouri, in 50 states and in 22 countries around the world.