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Legal News: Law Blog - WSJ.com
Possible US News Change Could Force Part-Time Program Cuts
By Dan Slater
It’s no secret that top law schools game the U.S. News & World Report rankings by admitting students with sub-par LSATs and GPAs into the part-time program only, since those students’ so-called entering credentials will then be excluded from the rankings calculus.
As early as January, that loophole might be excised. On today’s front-page, the WSJ’s Amir Efrati reports that U.S. News is “seriously” considering reworking its ranking system to crack down on the practice, according to Robert Morse, director of data research at the magazine, who manages the all-mighty rankings. LB noted this possibility in July.
“Counting part-timers would roil the law-school rankings,” writes Efrati, “which have a big impact on where students apply and from where law firms hire.” Moreover, law school administrators say the methodology change could narrow a traditional pathway to law school for minorities and working professionals, who often perform worse on the LSAT. If the ranking calculus changes to include part-timers, schools could feel pressure to raise their admission thresholds, making it harder for these groups to gain admission.
A change in criteria would “catch the outliers but punish part-time programs that have existed forever and aren’t doing it to game the system,” says Ellen Rutt, an associate dean at the University of Connecticut. If U.S. News makes the move, many schools with part-time programs would have a tough choice: Leave their admission standards for part-timers unchanged, which could hurt their rank, or raise the standards, likely shrinking the programs and cutting revenue.
Tom W. Bell, a law prof at Chapman University who has developed a rankings model that mimics the one used by U.S. News, says that if the U.S. News change had already taken place this year, some schools could have fallen from the magazine’s “first tier” of the top 50 schools to the second tier, and some from the second to the third. Bell ran several schools’ data through his model, at WSJ’s request. For example, Southern Methodist University and the University of Connecticut, tied at 46th, might have fallen out of the top 50, and Hofstra and Stetson universities might have sunk below 100.
These kinds of drops can put the jobs of law school deans in jeopardy. Nancy Rapoport, the former dean of the University of Houston Law Center, resigned in 2006 after the school had fallen from 50th to 70th in the span of a few years. (The school is now ranked 55th; Rapoport has moved on to teach at University of Nevada-Las Vegas.) In the 2009 rankings, Buffalo law school experienced the most precipitous drop in the rankings, from 77 to 100.
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