The Law School Rankings Debate, Part 2

Many readers have commented about possible effects of using part-time student data in our methodology.

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My last blog post, Changing the Law School Ranking Formula, which sought views on whether U.S. News should change the law school ranking methodology, has drawn a considerable number of comments on this blog itself in addition to E-mails and posts by other bloggers.

First, we're not planning on making a decision on this issue until fall 2008. Our next law school rankings aren't published until late March 2009.

Some people—including Brian Leiter— have argued that if U.S. News combines the scores for all entering students, regardless of the part-time or full-time status—it could reduce the options for certain types of students to go to law school. These critics say that some law schools would de-emphasize their part-time programs to maintain their position in the rankings. Some law school deans (and others on the blog) have written me and said that their part-time programs are truly separate and serve working adults who can’t afford to go full time. Others say that those enrolled in part-time programs come disproportionately from minority populations; a reduction in part-time programs thus would also diminish racial diversity in the law school student body. These people state that by including part-time student data in our student selectivity factors, U.S. News would be doing more harm that good: We would curb the gaming of admission data, but actual students could get hurt in the process.

Others have said that U.S. News needs to do something to account for the increase in law transfer students. Many believe this has become another way for law schools to game the system because schools don’t have to include transfer student data in what they report on the American Bar Association’s annual questionnaire or to U.S. News. It’s a keen observation, but—for practical reasons—we probably won’t be able to gather transfer student data. It's not something that the ABA collects, thus there is no ABA standard. And we believe it’s the ABA’s role to set the data standards for law schools.

In any case, aren't law schools the sum of all their students (full-time, part-time, and transfer), and shouldn't the profile of the entire law school be the basis under which ranking comparisons are made? It should be noted that part-time student data are included in computing all the other variables (expenditures per students, student-faculty ratios, employment rates, and bar-pass rates) in the U.S. News law school rankings that involve statistical data.

If you are interested in seeing the difference between full-time and total (full-time plus part-time) LSATs, GPAs, and acceptance rates for the fall 2007 entering J.D. class, you can visit the recently published ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. You will see that at many schools with part-time programs, the differences in the full-time and total data are very small.

Please continue to comment: We value your input.