Law School Rankings By USNews: Does Cheating Benefit or Harm Women?

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US News is considering altering the way “student quality” is measured for rankings purposes by including the LSAT scores of part time students, as is described here:

The first idea is that U.S. News should count both full-time and part-time entering student admission data for median LSAT scores and median undergraduate grade-point averages in calculating the school’s ranking. U.S. News‘s current law school ranking methodology counts only full-time entering student data. Many people have told us that some law schools operate part-time J.D. programs for the purpose of enrolling students who have far lower LSAT and undergrad GPAs than the students admitted to the full-time program in order to boost their admission data reported to U.S. News and the ABA. In other words, many contend that these aren’t truly separate part-time programs but merely a vehicle to raise a law school’s LSAT and undergrad GPA for its U.S. News ranking. We have used only full-time program data because we believed that the part-time law programs were truly separate from the full-time ones. That no longer appears to be the case at many law schools. So, it can be argued that it is better analytically to compare the LSAT and undergrad GPAs of the entire entering class at all schools rather than just the full-time program data.

Brian Leiter’s reaction was as follows:

Including part-time JD students in the GPA/LSAT calculation will, indeed, defeat one of the many gaming strategies that have emerged in recent years, but affected schools will presumably just increase their reliance on transfers to avoid taking too big a hit. But including part-time students is also going to have pernicious consequences as well, given the way the US News tail wags the legal education dog. For many, probably most, part-time programs serve older, working students, who might not have time for fancy LSAT prep courses, but who bring levels of dedication, seriousness, and pertinent experience that enrich legal education and the legal profession. What a loss it will be if, out of fear of US News, schools start cutting back their part-time programs or rejecting these students whose numerical credentials might impede their crusade for a “higher ranking.”

These two block quotes set up the problem quite effectively. Law schools cheat on rankings by forcing some students into part time programs (who would rather be full time), and requiring others to complete their first year at another law school, and then transfer in. I am calling this cheating rather than gaming, because that’s how I see it. “Gaming” merely sounds strategic, while cheating, with its implication of dishonesty, is what is really happening. The part time students and the transfer students graduate with the same law degrees that the “regular” law students receive, but only after shouldering the added burdens the cheating law schools have imposed on them. The cheating pays off for the law school because they get to collect tuition from these students, without having to count their LSATs for rankings purposes.

If US News starts counting the LSATs of part time and transfer students, currently cheating law schools have to choose between tuition and rankings. The schools that choose ranking concerns over tuition receipts will admit fewer people with lower LSAT scores, who are likely to be disproportionately older, poorer, female, and/or People of Color. The schools that choose tuition will admit these students into their full time first year classes, treating them like everybody else, rather than as second class citizens. So whether this change helps or hurts women (and other affected groups) is going to depend on how many law schools prioritize tuition, and perhaps also value the increased diversity of their first year classes that will likely result from accepting students with somewhat lower LSAT scores.

In the interest of full disclosure: South Carolina doesn’t have an official part time program, though we do accept a lot of transfers. One of the comments at this USNews post notes:

1) At LUC’s PT program, nearly 50-75% do not work full-time jobs. Of that group, nearly 90% are within 0-2 years from having graduated from undergrad. In fact, the average age between the FT and PT classes are very close.

Thus, what inevitably happens is that once the first year is over with, these students (roughly 50% of the PT class) ‘transfer’ to the FT class. I hate to deflate the people who think otherwise, but PT programs are the back door into some of these tier 2 schools. GULC and GW have been known to do this as well….

2) Also, many law schools suggest that rejected students (from the FT-program) apply to the PT program….they even go so far as to point out how easy it is to transfer divisions.

If that is true, it is horrible. Would counting the LSATs of part time students improve or worsen this abominable situation for affected students? My guess is that the law school needs the tuition money and will admit most of them straight up. And then find other ways to cheat at the rankings.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to Law School Rankings By USNews: Does Cheating Benefit or Harm Women?

  1. I agree that in a contest between rankings and tuition dollars, that tuition dollars will win. I wonder if US News will soon close the “transfer loophole,” by requiring schools to count transfers’ LSAT scores, too.

  2. SJ says:

    I don’t think the US News rankings are perfect by any means, but – unfortunately – soooooo many positions require a top tier law school. I think this has a “chilling effect” on women who attended law school on the side. Women – far more often than men – attend school while their husbands work. This usually means that they MUST attend whatever school is in close proximity – and accept it’s associated US New’s tier.