Should the US News Ranking Include Part-Time and Evening Law Students?
Via Brian Leiter, I learned that Rob Morse, the ranking czar of the US News law school rankings is considering including the LSAT and GPA stats for part-time and evening JD students in its calculations for law school rankings. Morse writes:
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.
While much in the US News rankings should be changed, this change would wreak more havoc on legal education than it will solve. It is true that schools game the system with part-time and evening students, but any change should be focused on the gaming, not on including LSAT and GPAs of part-timers and evening students in with the law school’s regular LSAT/GPA stats. Leiter writes:
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.”
I wholeheartedly agree. The result will be a dramatic curtailment of evening and part-time programs unless schools want to take a hit in their ranking. This will penalize schools with such programs, and I bet these programs will shrink rather dramatically if US News makes this change.
First, since many students in these programs are older and have been working many years following graduation from their colleges, their GPAs don’t matter as much. Such programs are a way to accommodate students who may not have excelled in their undergraduate studies but who have blossomed in the years afterward.
Second, these programs are also an small escape valve from the tyranny of the LSAT, which is often the end-all and be-all of law school admissions. While the LSAT is important and is correlated to successful performance at law school, it is also true that many students who didn’t do well on the LSAT also have success in law school and in their legal careers. Furthermore, statistically, several minority groups generally have lower LSAT scores than whites. The LSAT shouldn’t dominate so heavily in law school admissions, but it does (due in large part to the US News rankings). At least the evening and part-time programs could escape from this problem, but if US News makes the proposed change, there will be no escape.
Third, there are many factors that might indicate whether a student will be successful in law school. Work experience can be a very important factor, and it doesn’t count at all in the US News system, which measures student quality at law schools with LSAT and GPA scores. Evening and part-time programs are a way to admit students who have something different to offer, who excel based on other factors such as work experience, that US News doesn’t consider.
Perhaps there’s a way for US News to go after the abusers rather than merge the stats for evening/part-time and day. Otherwise, if US News makes the proposed change, it will threaten evening and part-time programs which are very important. These programs are not like the day programs. They are designed for students with a different profile. Changing them to make for a one-size-fits-all system will really hurt these programs — they will either start to look indistinguishable from day programs or they will shrink dramatically or cease to exist. Maybe some schools will stand tall and not change their programs, but they might pay a big penalty in their ranking to do so.
I hope that the US News doesn’t make this change. Law school education is ironically being shaped considerably by a magazine, and I hope that this magazine makes the responsible choice. There are plenty of other problems with the rankings that need to be fixed and that will not destroy an important dimension of legal education in the process.
Disclosure: I teach at a law school with an evening division.