Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 82: Free-Market Foundation Helps Build Unique, Low-Tuition School

Thanks to the help of a free-market minded organization, a private law school in Germany is helping students abroad obtain a solid and affordable legal education.

The Hamburg, Germany-based Bucerius Law School, which opened doors this fall, has “halved the student-teacher ratio prevailing at Germany’s overcrowded and underfunded state universities and toppled the ivy-covered walls that isolate professors from pupils,” the Los Angeles Times reported on November 12.

“Most radical, in comparison with the hidebound state system, is that Bucerius is a private university that charges tuition – a practice long denounced as elitist in this country where every high school graduate has the legal right to a free higher education,” the article goes on to say.

Bucerius owes its birth to the adoption in Europe of a free-market approach to the economy and to the erosion of government-supported social welfare programs there. “People are now talking about the renaissance of the foundation sector after years of stagnation during the Nazi and Cold War Eras,” Michael Goering, director of the philanthropic Zeit Foundation, told the Washington-based American Institute of Contemporary German Studies in May.

Changes in German law have helped spur charitable giving. Under a law passed this year, Germans may deduct up to 10 percent of their income plus $40,000 marks (about $18,000). Americans can deduct 30 to 50 percent, depending on the type of charity.

The opening of the market has helped the Zeit Foundation to play an active role in the building of one of Germany’s only private law schools. Thanks to the foundation (half of Bucerius’ funding comes from Zeit) and support of law firms desperate for well-educated graduates (112,000 students currently study law at Germany’s state institutions), Bucerius students pay the bargain price of $7,000 in tuition. Students and faculty enjoy the higher standards and unique opportunities offered there. Six times the number of qualified applicants applied to the school this fall. Students seeking admission must pass high school exit exams in the top 3 percent in the nation, speak English fluently, and endure a rigorous program that prepares them to pass the law boards and for careers in corporate counseling. But a solid legal education is not the only goal. Bucerius trains students to meet the needs of the international business community. Goering is trying to arrange semester-long exchange program with elite U.S. law schools. “We want to create global lawyers,” Goering told the Washington Post on May 16.

“We’ve been having discussions about how to educate lawyers in this country for 25 years without anything changing, which is why the Zeit Foundation decided not to add to the debate but to set an example,” Goering told the Times. “I can ask these kids to do things I could never expect to get from students at a state university,” said Professor Hanno Markt.

Annual tuition at Bucerius ranks favorably when compared to tuition at North Carolina’s private law schools. Annual tuition for Duke University Law School for the 2000-2001 academic year is $26,650. Accounting for room, board, and fees, that figure rises to $40,674. Tuition for the 2000-2001 academic year at Wake Forest University School of Law is $21,950. At Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, annual tuition for the year 2000 entering class was $18,750.

Tuition for North Carolina’s public law schools is more compatible with Bucerius’ $7,000 annual tuition figure. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law, consistently ranked by U.S. News& World Report as a bargain legal education, North Carolina residents paid $5,031.42 in tuition for 2000-2001. Non residents paid $17,131.42. Adding fees and other expenses, those figures rise to $16,645.42 and $28,745.42 respectively. At North Carolina Central University, resident students paid $2,287.50 in 1999-2000. Out-of-state residents paid $11,391.50.