[UPDATE: An astute reader in comment #1 pointed out that Thomas Cooley's large part-time program could be skewing the data. That commenter was right. Thus, I have changed the analysis from the original post. wdh]
According to Bob Morse's post at Morse Code, law school deans are very unhappy about the proposed change in the U.S. News rankings methodology. If the changes go into effect, these deans suggest that part-time program will shrink; in the process, students with no other options will be shut out of law school.
There is another way to evaluate this claim. Is the number of part-time slots propped up by the U.S. News rankings methodology? In other words, what is the effect of the part-time loophole?
The table below summarizes changes in 1L full-time and 1L part-time enrollment between fall 1991 and fall 2006. (Note that U.S. News debuted its rankings for all law schools in 1992.) These schools fall into four categories: (1) schools with FT-only in 1991; (2) schools with FT/PT in 1991; (3) school approved by the ABA-approved since 1991; (4) Thomas Cooley, which has unusually large PT and FT enrollments. I separate out Cooley because it skews the data (thank you to comment #1 for bringing this pattern to my attention).
Overall, there is a strong tilt toward part-time, but the dynamics are complex. Here is a summary of the relevant changes (excluding Cooley except where noted):
- Between 1991 and 2006, the number of full-time slots at ABA-approved law school increased by 6.0% (+2,220) while the number of part-time slots increased by a 25.2% (+1,288). (If Cooley is included, these figures jump to 6.9% and 34.7% respectively.)
- Among the 99 schools with no part-time programs in the pre-ranking era, 14 started part-time programs since 1991 (+497 PT 1L students). Yet, among the 75 schools that had part-time programs in 1991 (excluding Cooley), the number of part-time slot increased a mere 16 students.
- Overall, the shift is clearly away from full-time and toward part-time. Among the 174 schools that were fully ABA-approved in 1991 (again, excluding Cooley), full-time 1L slots fell by 743 students while part-time increased by 513.
Why such a small increase among schools with pre-existing PT program? There is heightened competition from the new PT programs: during this time period, other law schools added 1,272 more PT seats (excluding Cooley). Further, schools with higher ranks--and hence more market power--were much more likely to increase their PT enrollments. Among the 174 schools that were fully ABA-approved in 1991, PT 1L enrollments in Tiers 1-2 climbed by 688 while FT 1L enrollments in declined by 518. In Tiers 3-4 (excluding Cooley), there was contraction in both FT (-224) and PT (-175) enrollment.
Let's not kid ourselves. Quite a few students have been shunted into PT programs so a school could drive up its US News numbers. In my research for an upcoming Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) presentation, I was shocked by proliferation of so-called "part-time day" programs--which, obviously, do not require professors to teach at night. These students appear to eventually transfer into the full-time day program; unfortunately, they have to take overloads or summer courses to graduate in three years.
So here is the bottomline: Whatever the ranking methodology, a large number of law schools are going to make resource allocation decisions based on rankings. If Bob Morse changes the methodology to get rid of the part-time loophole, we can expect many law schools to throw their part-time students overboard--that is a fact, and it is not Bob Morse's fault. In this US News conundrum, both people and our alleged principles are guaranteed to get hurt.
The first step toward solving this ongoing embarassment is admitting that we indeed have a problem. This task should, in theory, fall to the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, which meets in NYC next month.
As Andy Morriss and I argued in Measuring Outcomes: Post-Graduation Measures of Success in the U.S. News & World Report Rankings, 83 Ind. L. J. 791 (2008), legal educators can completely eradicate this terrible tail-wagging-the-dog dynamic by releasing school-level data (in spreadsheet format) that reveals detailed information about what students care about: employment by practice setting, salaries, interviews, and bar passage. Right now, this information is aggregated in ways that impede intelligent decision making by students. Many schools would be hurt by this approach--but they are not the only constituency that matters. Students and lawyers are not well served by the opaqueness of the current system. And it is this opaqueness that gives U.S. News rankings so much power.