Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Value-maximizing during a jobs crisis, or rankings-management?

As I read about George Washington Law School's decision to take fewer evening students this year (see here) in response to a drop in the USNWR rankings, I see GW's decision as one more step in the tail of rankings wagging the dog of legal education (see my prior posts here). As a strategy matter, I get GW's decision: the rankings feed directly into law firms' decisions about how deep into a school's class to interview on campus, and the rankings also feed directly into the buzz surrounding submissions of professors' articles to law reviews. So a law school's decision to ignore the rankings would have serious negative consequences in several areas.

And yet, how far are we going to let the rankings dictate law schools' admissions, curricular, and placement policies? USNWR is just a news magazine, after all. Its rankings exist far more to sell advertising and its rankings themselves than for its stated objective of providing useful consumer information. (Useful consumer information would concentrate more on what goes on during a student's law school education than on the inputs of LSAT and undergraduate GPA, and it wouldn't rely on surveys with relatively small numbers of participants to judge "quality.")

Until the more elite schools figure out how to deal with USNWR and its pressures on turf that used to be the province of reasoned faculty decisions about how to choose and educate law students, the rest of legal education is going to be hard-pressed to buck the trend.


Anonymous said...

and to me it is even sadder than that, in that the GW night program should be prized. I taught there a couple of years ago and had some night classes, and I can tell you those students are amazing: most are bigwigs in some other aspect of DC life and are just returning to school to get a JD. How we can let a news magazine reduce that boon to our legal community is beyond me.

how about posting this also on LPB?


Nancy Rapoport said...

I love teaching evening students--they have so much drive and heart!

Anonymous said...

GW's recent move was certainly a rankings management move. That said, I see US News' change in methodology in a slightly different light.

It was fairly well known for some time that certain schools had been increasing their part time enrollments to exploit a loophole in US News' methodology. These schools would often admit students to part time programs and then later let the students transfer to full time programs. This became known even to law school applicants, who would often apply to part time programs if they knew their numbers weren't good enough for a school's full time program.

This truly was the tail wagging the dog.

US News' recent methodology change was a step in the right direction toward a better ranking system. No longer will schools without part time programs be discriminated against in the rankings. And no longer will schools be motivated to increase part time enrollments to affect rankings.

I mostly agree with your larger point, however. It's a shame that a publication with such a flawed methodology should control rankings to this extent.


Nancy Rapoport said...

Mike, you're right--the change helps to even out the playing field w/those schools that were gaming the system by burying the LSAT/UGPA scores that they didn't like in their PT programs. The unfortunate consequence, though, is that the PT programs are now being cut as a way of gaming the rankings--even in places where PT programs make sense.

Gee, maybe law schools should go straight to reality TV programs instead of following magazines' whims.