Thanks so much for doing this, I know you all have a lot going on.
A question that seems to pop up a lot here on TLS is TTU with a scholarship versus SMU or UofH with no money. I know TTU places moderately well in the D/FW area, so how would you address that to potential students? Obviously they are giving up a strong tie to D/FW with SMU, but an expensive one. What would you have to say to students in that position?
Ah, that is one of the eternal questions, isn't it? Right up there with "Who let the dogs out?" and "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?". While this question is specific to Texas, you can replace the schools and city with numerous other combinations in various areas of the country. As a student recruiter at UT, I always had this discussion with students trying to decide between UT and Fancy-East-Coast-Private-School. My answer is still pretty much the same.
The old rule of thumb used to be "Go to the best law school you can get into", with "best" being defined mostly by "the rankings" or the general reputation in your region. Heck, that was still mostly good advice even when I went started at UT in 2001. But a lot has happened in 10 years, and most practicing lawyers don't realize how much law school tuition has increased since they graduated. (You google-ninjas out there can find how much my classmates and I paid in tuition at UT as 3Ls in 2003-04 and compare it to tuition now.) I think there is a big difference in Free vs. $20k and Free-$10k vs. $30-40K.
I think that decision is much closer than many people unfamiliar with what we do out here on the Llano Estacado might think, especially with respect to DFW. It's a little chicken-and-egg, but many of our students come from the DFW area and go back after graduation. Dallas is the #1 destination for our grads and Ft. Worth is #5 so together our students do quite well in the Metroplex. Both SMU and Tech offer high quality educations, but there are differences. The question then becomes whether or not it is worth the additional cost to attend a school like SMU to get those differences?
Some people will decide that the differences between a school like Tech and a school like SMU (or Baylor) are worth paying an extra $20-40,000 a year for. Those reasons could include being able to save money by living at home, theoretically have more opportunities to work during their 2L/3L years, or simply preferring to live in a big city. As the costs increase though, I think fewer students will find the usual differences worth paying such a high premium for. (As I tell students sometimes, you can fly back to Dallas quite a few times with just $10k and still end up ahead.)
As it applies to Tech, our students do very well in DFW. We have a strong alumni network there. We're also planning a semester-in-practice program where students would be able to spend their last semester in Dallas taking classes and/or earning externship credits working at approved placements. That's a lot of potential networking so I would disagree that you were giving up as much of a "tie" as it might seem. If you want to get practical skills training - like, actually KNOW how to do stuff - there are few places better than Tech.
Houston is a slightly different situation. Being farther away, we tend to get fewer students from there which leads to having fewer alumni in the area. Also, with South Texas there, students have another good law school that has a strong record of success in trial skills training like we do. Still, Houston is the #3 location for our students (Austin is #2) and one of our best alumni, Mark Lanier, is there. Students with Houston ties can still find success back home provided they take care of business in law school, which is true no matter where you want to work.
It's after 5pm on a Friday and I'm still at work so I'll wrap this particular answer up. (Feel free to ask follow up questions, though. There are lots of nuances to this area.) I do want to close by saying nothing I wrote should be construed as digs against SMU. They have great people up there and offer a great education. Someone who has the option of a full-ride here and SMU (with typically some level of scholarship) is blessed with two very good choices.