Should the US News Ranking Include Part-Time and Evening Law Students?

usnwr1.jpgVia 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.

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14 Responses

  1. If U.S. News is going to make any changes, they should be directed to postgraduate employment. As it stands, if a law graduate takes a job working as a short order cook, he or she is reported as employed. That’s misleading – we should know what percentage of students are employed in the legal profession.

    Honestly, I don’t understand what the LSAT fetish is. I’m much more interested in the quality of students who graduate from a law school, not who get in.

  2. JrL says:

    Why not just create a separate ranking for part-time and evening programs? Though that wouldn’t address the schools that have part-time students but not enough to force them to admit that they have a part-time program.

  3. merevaudevillian says:

    I’m not sure it’s necessarily true that the perils of a PT program are so obvious. For instance, most PT programs are significantly smaller than the FT programs and comparable, albeit slightly lower, in LSAT and GPA scores; a slight change in those scores is unlikely to benefit schools considering the elimination of PT programs. PT programs provide a huge financial benefit to schools because so few receive scholarships. And if these “serious” and “experienced” PT students really are deserving of those labels, it would, in theory, raise the reputation of the school, which is a far more generous statistic on the USNWR rankings than LSAT and GPA combined.

    Indeed, Northwestern has built itself on the work experience model without “sacrifying” itself to the USNWR rankigns.

    For the average student applying, however, I think it’s eminently reasonable for USNWR to factor the PT statistics into its calculation, particularly because, as Morse indicates, most schools no longer strictly divide PT and FT sections. A quick perusal at AutoAdmit reveals many students anxious to get into GULC PT, for instance, simply because it’s a “T14.”

    In short, I think it’s fair to say that if PT programs are no longer operating at PT programs but, instead, serve as small refuges for schools to make a high profit margin off of admitted students whose statistics otherwise do not comport with the caliber of school the school wishes itself to be projected as, then, I think, it’s entirely appropriate to include the PT statistics.

  4. 2005grad says:

    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.

    Why plead with US News and not with your own dean (and the dean of G-town, AU, and the other schools with evening programs)?

    The Brian Leiter post, to which you link, contains a good suggestion:

    As Dean Gary Simson of Case Western wrote on a listserve for law schools Deans–he forwarded it to me–perhaps these latest proposed modifications to the rankings should be “treat[ed]…as a wake-up call and….should cause us all to finally say ‘enough’ and that we are done participating in a ranking system that has done substantial harm and little, if any, good to legal education in the United States. Even deans at the most highly ranked schools — those schools that today appear to be winning in the rankings game — should recognize that they have a major stake in abandoning a system that, at some magazine editors’ whim, could be suddenly revamped in ways that could send those schools plummeting from their lofty perch.” What say you Dean Koh? Dean Kagan? If Yale and Harvard publicly opted out of US News, this would have a dramatic effect.)

    I understand that there’s a collective action problem and that schools will be ranked by US News, regardless of whether they supply information, but after a while the complaints that “law school education is ironically being shaped considerably by a magazine” start to sound a little ridiculous.

    Perhaps these poor helpless law schools should make “the responsible choice” and stop letting a second-rate magazine set their priorities.

  5. okon says:

    Why would Harvard and Yale opt out of a system that keeps them perpetually on top?

  6. John D. says:

    I don’t find this reasoning persuasive. Rankings should include all students at a school (including transfer students and part-time students). That will give the fairest picture of the quality of the student body and the relative quality of a law degree. The transfer student loophole (NYU) is just as problematic as the part-time loophole (Georgetown). Schools should not be rewarded for gaming the system.

    Look, the LSAT is imperfect, but it is the only uniform measure for performance, and it should be included in any ranking system. Some schools with relatively low LSATs (Stanford, Berkeley) have been able to perform better very well in US News relative to schools with higher LSAT distributions (Harvard, Chicago). So much for “tyranny.”

  7. Mike Zimmer says:

    Two points: 1. Include in separate categories all students, all years, all programs (parttime, fulltime, day, evening). Since law schools all use the LSAT to some extent, it is hard to say that it is irrelevant and, for applicants, getting a sense of what are ballpark scores has to be helpful.

    2. Drop the reputation variable, at least as presently done. The reputation score is what helps secure the continuing top billing for the so-called national schools. While reputation is obviously relevant for potential applicants, the present system is worth very little, other than to bolster the national branded schools. Maybe with that dropped, the leaders at these national schools might begin to see a downside of this system.

  8. fake name says:

    Is there any actual data to support the premise that evening students have lower credentials or is it just a story that day students tell themselves so they can think they are better than someone else?

  9. John D. says:

    Fake name — Evening students and transfer students generally (i.e., on average) have lower credentials, particuarly LSAT scores. The data back this up. Also, if these individuals had the same credectials, there would be no controversy over including them in the student quality measure, because it would have no impact on rankings.

  10. Former Night Student says:

    It’s completely ignorant to assume that all evening/PT students have sub-par academic credentials, just like it’s ignorant to think that all K-thru-JDs are immature babies with zero real-world experience. Evening students make law review, they are Teaching Assistants, and they land prime summer associate positions. And most of the time they have spouses and children and work 40+ hours/week.

    As for the notion that evening programs are “a way to accommodate students who may not have excelled in their undergraduate studies but who have blossomed in the years afterward”: BS. Evening programs are a way to accomodate students who work for a living and want something more–whether it’s more income to provide for their families, or a more rewarding career than the one they have. I guess you could just as easily (and incorrectly) say that full-time law programs are a way to accomodate students who are scared of entering the real world with just a bachelor’s degree.

  11. bill says:


    LSAC makes this data available on a school-by-school basis.

    For example, note the 5 point drop in median LSAT between Georgetown’s full-time and part-time (=mostly evening) students.

    That said, the obvious effect for schools afraid of dropping in the USNews rankings will be pressure to abandon their evening divisions.


    The deans of most elite schools should do whatever they can to undermine the talismanic power of the USNews rankings.

    Once upon a time, Chicago was #2 in these rankings, then #3 and #4 for a while. Changes in the USNews formula now leave it in danger of falling out of the top 10. Yale’s probably not in any danger under any formula, and likely not Harvard either, but I’m not sure why any other top law school would feel secure that USNews couldn’t “alter” the formula and deal its ranking a serious blow.

    For example, if the non-accedited failures on the CA bar are omitted, Stanford and Berkeley could fall by virtue of no longer having the unaccedited schools’ students pad the high success rate of their very qualified grads. (US News compares a school’s pass rate in the jurisdiction where the majority of its grads take the bar to the pass rate overall in that jurisdiction.)

  12. anon says:

    I am pretty sure that employers (at least big law firms) know the difference, in terms of difficulty of gaining admission at least, between the part time and full time programs at GULC. When all is said and done, the rankings’ “matter” most because employers think they do. Thus, I would think there should be a difference between GULC full time and GULC part time

    (yeah, I went to GULC)

  13. Nick Maceus says:

    The Journal has a story on the consideration U.S. News is giving to counting entering part-time students along with full-time students. For what it’s worth, I think the problem is with law schools that have started bogus part-time day programs to admit students who don’t otherwise have the proper credentials. Long established part-time evening programs, like George Mason’s, tend to have students with a bit weaker academic credentials than their full-time counterparts, but with vastly more real-world experience. I’ve had, for example, evening students in their 40s and 50s who have successfully built multi-million dollar businesses. Does it make sense to judge them based on their undergraduate GPA from twenty years earlier?

    I was also struck but this line: “Mr. Morse of U.S. News says the magazine will run tests of how the change would play out in rankings, and then decide in January.” If the change is methodologically valid (or not), it shouldn’t matter “how the change would play out in rankings.” It’s bizarre to first decide what you think the rankings should look like, and then create (or retain) criteria to meet that preconceived notion.

    What I’d like to see is a separate ranking of part-time programs, especially given that most part-timers are working professionals who are choosing among part-time programs, and do not even consider full-time admissions. Not only would this provide very useful information to such students, but schools that, say, are revealed to have nine part-time day students out of a class of 200, with an LSAT 10 points below their full-time median, will be called out for abusing the system.

  14. USCme2 says:

    my favorite quote of all time:

    “every year USNews eats up the legal profession, digests it and we cannot help ourselves but marvel at the big steaming pile of dung that is left for us to bicker about”

    if I see one more idiotic ranking with Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc. as the top whatever!!!!! who cares!!! how many different magazines need to print these same stupid rankings of these same schools in varying order. what is the difference if Harvard is 1, 2, or 3….just because some loser editor compiling stats on a completely subjective basis thinks so???? Please….I can’t believe legal professionals are not smarter than to finally do away with USNews and its fellow cronies!