It's not splitting hairs when you're taking something said as a general rule and trying to extend it to an absolute rule. That's a big shift in characterizing what was said.
Anyway, Vandy/Cornell/etc. are not "slightly" better schools than Iowa when discussing job placement. They place 2-3x as many people, proportionate to class size, into the high-paying legal jobs that many desire, and even the portions of their classes that don't go to biglaw are in significantly better positions than those from Iowa due to markets that draw from them (NYC for Cornell; Atlanta and others from Vandy).
In addition, many who take contingent scholarships at Iowa will still be in "enormous debt" due to losing the scholarship plus living expenses. This was discussed in some of the posts earlier in the thread, not sure if you read the earlier discussion. So they're not really attending Iowa for free. Tuition is only half the battle when it comes to expenses.
In regards to placing people into the high-paying jobs that people desire, where do you get this information? I'll grant you that more people from Cornell get high-paying jobs than from Iowa, but is it unreasonable to assume that more people want those jobs at Cornell? I assume that much fewer people want these jobs at Iowa simply because they went to Iowa. You can't stress the strength of Cornell's placement by saying a larger proportion of the class has high-paying jobs, because we have no idea the actual proportion of people that are aiming for these jobs. While Cornell may place 2-3x more people in the high-paying jobs, they also may have 2-3x as many people trying to get these jobs (which would obviously mitigate your argument). I think the only true indicator of employment success is the rate of bar-required occupation.
And I'm not arguing about the students who lose their scholarships. That is a completely different situation. You're going to be in a tough situation regardless not being in the top third of Iowa, scholarship money aside. I'm only addressing the students who actually maintain their scholarships.
Your earlier argument in regards to living expenses was flawed though. Here was what you said:
ut keep in mind that law school isn't free outside of tuition. Even with a full ride at Iowa, you're going to end up in significant debt by the time you pay room and board, living expenses, books, parking (parking is atrociously inflated at Iowa considering that you're in a small city), transportation, and for some, day care. So you're not comparing $120k+ in debt from a higher ranked school to zero in debt at Iowa. You're comparing $120k+ debt from a higher ranked school to $40-$60k in debt from Iowa or more if you have daycare or other circumstances.
You take the free cost of Iowa ($0) and the full price of another school ($120k+), emphasize the cost of living expenses, and then add them only to Iowa ($40k-$60k vs. $120k+). It should've been $40k-$60k vs. $160k+-$180k+.
I can't help but feel like the cost of living is a moot point when comparing school prices simply because it exists for all schools. When you compare the prices of two laptops, do you factor in the cost of tax? No, because no matter what computer you get, it will have tax. It's unavoidable. So for this situation, it would be free tuition at Iowa vs. $150,000 at Cornell. There's no way the cost of living is higher in Iowa City than NY, so the price difference isn't going to shrink.
And besides, some people (myself included) have significant others with full-time jobs who can cover living expenses.