The U.S.News & World Report law school rankings have had a substantial impact on law school admissions and law school diversity, say Michael Sauder of the University of Iowa and Wendy Nelson Espeland of Northwestern University in their recent article, "Rankings and Diversity." The article joins a rapidly expanding body of literature on law school rankings and the effect that the rankings have had on law schools, prospective students, legal employers, and alumni.
Regarding the ramifications of our rankings for law schools, the article notes:
"U.S. News rankings have changed admissions practices because they affect a broad range of law schools' constituents. This impact is often intangible, even subtle, because they indirectly reshape how we think about quality and reputation in legal education. Media rankings, which have become a prominent, fateful measure of performance and status, place enormous pressure on law schools to boost the statistics that the rankings incorporate. Prospective students, current students, faculty, administrators (including trustees and university presidents), alumni (including boards of visitors and donors), legal employers, and the media that cover education (including national and regional newspapers and news magazines, as well as journalism devoted to law and higher education) all attend to rankings. Rankings not only influence individual decisions about where to apply and attend law school, but also organizational decisions such as whom to admit or hire, how to evaluate the work of subordinates, peers, or superiors, and how to think about status and specialization in the field of legal education. Rankings subtly, powerfully, and enduringly shape perceptions of ability and achievement."
The authors also comment on the impact that the U.S. News law school rankings have had on law school diversity, and they give their views on the annual U.S. News law school diversity index. They say that "because rankings include selectivity statistics (LSAT scores, undergraduate grade point averages, and acceptance rates account for 25% of a school's overall rank) that reflect racial, gender, economic and geographical differences, and because the ability to perform well under duress on a timed, standardized test is a highly restrictive form of merit, efforts to improve these statistics can threaten various forms of diversity. Notably, U.S. News's diversity index is not factored into the overall rankings given to law schools but is presented separately, which hugely undercuts its impact."
U.S. News doesn't incorporate its current diversity index into the law school rankings, because measuring how successful law schools are at achieving diversity is a very complicated issue that cannot easily be included in our rankings formula in a fair and meaningful way. The current U.S. News diversity index does not measure how successful law schools are at achieving diversity against a benchmark. For example, U.S. News would need to determine what scale would be used to measure diversity for each law school. How should law schools be compared in ethnically diverse states like California and Florida, say, with those in far less diverse states like Maine and Kansas? U.S. News is willing to work with legal educators and others to develop such fair diversity yardsticks, but we cannot do it without outside assistance.
U.S. News believes that our law school rankings are not hindering diversity at law schools since we use the median (or midpoint) LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, instead of averages, as ranking factors. The median gives schools considerable flexibility to accept students with very low LSAT and undergraduate grades without lowering the school's actual median LSAT and grade-point average—and in turn, without negatively affecting their U.S. News rankings.