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14 July 2008

Comments

Ivan

Yes, Colin...one is either qualified or not qualified to enter legal study and the profession.

So, why would schools go through the trouble of harboring these supposedly "less-qualified students"? Could it be that terms like "merit" and "qualified" have been given such narrow definitions as to bastardize the entire educational system? Could it be that educators understand the FACT that student "quality" cannot simply be measured by numerical indeces, alone?

Among the law schools, there's an obvious disdain for the ranking that penalize students who are graded by what amounts, at best, to an incomplete standardized exam (the LSAT)that doesn't even predict what it needs to. After all, the LSAT is supposed to measure first-year law school performance, which is questionable on its own.

The blame can aptly be spread between the ABA, the LSAC, the state BAR associations, the law firms and corporations that do the hiring, the universities,and the law schools, themselves.

The ultimate objective of a law school is not to produce "good first-year law students", but to produce "practice-ready legal professionals" (or come as close as possible to it). Why, then, should schools be forced to use an exam that doesn't serve that end, and then be scrutinized for finding ways to maintain a modicum of open access to education for those students they deem capable of becoming good lawyers? The schools deem these students as "qualified", and would never admit students they didn't feel could successfully complete their programs.

Furthermore, it is an outrage that U.S. News has forced the hand(s) of the schools; they know their business, and they know how to evaluate students properly. Yet, here they are, being dictated to by a stupid magazine that, if magazines were ranked, would fall into the fourth-tier, itself!

Colin

Two thoughts.

1st, why is it desirable that a school can admit students, even if they are 10 years out and have families and are clearly nontraditional, under the table like this? what does the community benefit by having georgetown or GW or the host of other schools graduate these part-timers who sucked on the lsat but were, i'm guessing, "the best we could find to fill the PT class?" You either are or aren't qualified to receive a top quality law school diploma. I'm sure that if the principal consumers of prestige degrees, the large law firms, didn't want USNews to do this then they wouldn't do it.

2nd. if we assume that there is a good reason to allow some people to skip the regular standards because of this mitigating factor, why not come up with a better way to manage the gamesmanship than this? Perhaps if USNews required (in the same way they require everything, meaning they make up stuff if you don't provide it) schools to provide the same details about students transferring in from part time programs and from other law schools as they do regular students and added those numbers into the pot like everyone else? that would allow the part time program to exist mostly on its own without the flagrant abuse of students transferring over into the full time program at will. I'd be shocked if employers didn't know whether their applicants are coming out of a 3 year or 4 year program, so that should solve the problem.

Mark Ackerman

By the way...I might be picking nits here, but I think you're using the word "skew" improperly..."Skew" is an adjective used in stats to describe the "shape" of a set of data when plotted on a histogram. I think the word you're looking for is "bias" - when comparing part-time programs, Cooley's numbers introduce bias to the data set, they do not skew it.

Keep up the good work! We need more discussions on these admissions practices that often appear to be unethical and harmful.

Mark Ackerman

There's no doubt law schools are using part-time day programs (and part-time evening programs, to a lesser extent) to game the rankings.

If you look at the latest "Official Guide" numbers, available at www.lsac.org, you can get a lot of great information. The latest Official Guide doesn't report median LSAT, but it does report 75% and 25%. Here are the 21 schools with the greatest disparity between full-time 75% LSAT and part-time 75% LSAT (I was going to do a top 10, but there were a lot of ties):

1. Alabama: 9
2. Hawaii: 8
3. MSU: 8
4. Seton Hall: 7
5. Maryland: 6
Valparaiso: 6
Cardozo: 6
Toledo: 6
Creighton: 6
Regent: 6
11. Penn State: 5
Loyola (Chicago): 5
St. John's: 5
Charleston: 5
Akron: 5
Chapman: 5
Connecticut: 5
SMU: 5
Brooklyn: 5
Chicago-Kent: 5
Cooley Law School: 5

One reason for these disparities might be due to differences in applicant pools. Part-time applicant pools tend to be more localized, whereas full-time applicant pools, even for "regional" or "local" law schools tend to be more national to some extent, meaning, in theory, that full time programs ought to be able to attract greater numbers of stronger students than part-time programs. Clearly, though, part-time programs are being used at some schools to enroll students with lower LSAT scores in an effort to protect the median LSAT of the full-time day division, thereby protecting and/or improving the rankings.

Another part of this game is the promise that part-time students can switch to full-time after the first year, thereby allowing them to graduate from law school in three years. This is a "win-win" - the law school gets to protect its full-time median LSAT, and the student doesn't have to stay in law school for four years. This type of offer makes a part-time program more attractive to prospective students and thus feasible from an enrollment standpoint.

Again, using the data in the Official Guide, we can subtract total percentage of part-time students enrolled from percentage of entering part-time students to get an idea of the proportion of students who are switching from part-time to full-time after the first year. Here are the schools with the top 10 disparities between first-year part-time enrollment and overall part-time enrollment.

1. Toledo: 25.5%
2. Rutgers—Camden: 22.5%
3. Cardozo: 22.1%
4. Penn State: 21.8%
5. MSU: 20.3%
6. Brooklyn: 17.1%
7. Chapman: 15.0%
8. Fordham: 11.3%
9. St. Mary's: 11.2%
10. St. John's: 9.3%

Let's look at which schools show up on both lists:

1. Toledo
2. Cardozo
3. Penn State
4. MSU
5. Brooklyn
6. Chapman
7. St. John's

I don't have access to years' worth of rankings data, but it would be interesting to see the change in these schools' rankings over time.

merevaudevillian

There are two additional factors I would be curious to see. First, I would be curious to see the PT and FT growth in the fifteen year period preceding 1991.

Second, I would be interested to see any connection between PT programs and the ABA's diversity committee. As one Web site (http://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoast/2007/01/more.html) noted (perhaps with a bias), the diversity committee's goals often conflict with the numerical goals of the USNWR:

"[The Law School] has been unwilling to engage in any significant preferential affirmative action admissions program. There are doubts, according to one member of the Law School administration, regarding the legality of ... such a policy. The reluctance to compromise normal admission quality standards appears to be particularly present regarding the full-time program. There appears to be slightly more flexibility regarding the part-time program. At least one person stated that this was in part related to the School's efforts to improve its rating in US News and World Report, which apparently only uses the admissions data on full-time programs."

Jeff Harrison

Although correlation and causation are not the same, at some point common sense does kick in. -- increased advertising, increased transfer students, etc. -- all suggest the same thing. Here the tail wags the dog because the dog does not have the courage which is to do the right thing -- ignore USN&WR and provide the students with the best possible education.

Sarah Redfield

Is there specific data available on the diversity of PT as compared to FT students?
S

Bill Henderson

Stephen, what is the cite to the article? Good ideas get ignored all the time.

Ted, we are completely on the same page regarding our values and objectives. We can draw a line and ask that US News leave PT alone. But what about FT admissions? The bad tradeoffs you fear are now part of the fabric of modern law school admissions. This debate not merely about PT students; its about how law school deal with admissions and competition generally. Right now there is a lot of numbers fudging and a dismantling of whole-person review. These are terrible values for law schools to perpetuate.

The solution here is weakening the power of US News rankings by releasing more and better information.

Theodore Seto

True part-time students - generally older, with a proven track record in the real world - often bring very different credentials to a law school than day students. Because of grade inflation, straight-throughs often have offer higher GPAs than student who graduated 10 or more years ago. Older students also tend to perform less well on multiple choice exams like the LSAT; they're out of practice. Comparing true part-time students with day students is therefore often comparing apples and oranges.

Bill makes a good point about gaming. But there is a values question here. Do we care more about correct measurement? Or do we care more about whether educational opportunities will be available to students other than the standard straight-throughs? There is no question in my mind that including part-time students in US News' stats will decimate part-time programs. I, for one, care more about real educational opportunities than correct measurement.

Stephen M (Ethesis)

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.

Hmm, I actually wrote an article calling for that sort of thing more than ten years ago.

I'd still like to see it. I think every student looking at a law school needs that information to make a reasoned choice.

Bill Henderson

Corey,

Yes, I am saying that accreditation requires the submissions and maintenance of audited records of outcome measures that are distributed into the marketplace. Law schools collectively need to choose between endless non-substantive gaming and lying or competition that benefits their students. In the long run, the latter is the better choice.

bh.

Corey

"And it is this opaqueness that gives U.S. News rankings so much power."

Well, there is a really interesting discussion in that. US News has achieved a monopoly position in the market for market indicators, which allows it to decrease its level of services (transparency and information content.) Your solution would be great, if you could make schools release their own info, but they can't hurt themselves like that. The schools are all modeled as corporations, and action for the greater good is foreclosed by the will of the stakeholders, who want to see THEIR school win alone. I can't imagine a school that is willing to pull this kind of dishonest PT program enrollment trick suddenly turning over a new leaf and disclosing their dirty laundry because we made an appeal to honesty and integrity.

It sounds like you are advocating industry self-regulation as a cure for a collective action problem that the free market for legal education services can't clear. But once the ABA section (theoretically) calls out schools for more transparency, what power compells the schools to comply? A lot of students and firms and their clients seem pretty content to just lazily rely on the US News proxy.

Are you suggesting that ABA licensing of schools be made contingent on certain disclosures? Because that might work.

David Bernstein

Bill,

Hasn't law school tuition increased far more quickly than inflation in this period? If so, there would logically be more demand for part-time enrollment, as working while in law school both allows one to subsidize one's tuition, and also allows one to take a smaller risk of un or under employment after graduation.

David Bernstein

Bill,

Hasn't law school tuition increased far more quickly than inflation in this period? If so, there would logically be more demand for part-time enrollment, as working while in law school both allows one to subsidize one's tuition, and also allows one to take a smaller risk of un or under employment after graduation.

Bill Henderson

Merevaudevillian,

You are right on one point: Cooley was skewing the data. I am correcting it now. bh.

alvin

George Washington will often offer PT admission to those on its full time wait list (i.e., students at the full time admissions lower margin) and openly tell them that they can transfer to full time and graduate in 3 years. They very open about it with applicants, and have been doing this for years.

On another note, if someone has the time, it would be interesting to use the ABA data on LSAC.org to put together a spreadsheet showing the differences between total full time/partime median LSAT/GPA for schools with part time programs. It's interesting because the differences seem, from a quick look, very small for a lot of schools which would suggest they are not using this scheme to benefit in the rankings.

Then, perhaps someone can re-compute the current US News rankings using the total median numbers to see what the rankings impact would be. I'm sure this would be of great interest to alot of school administrators.

merevaudevillian

Does correlation necessarily equal causation? That is, in this case, I would think that, to some extent, alternative factors might drive many schools to institute substantial, and successful, part-time programs. It becomes an advertising "niche" and marketing tool to improve enrollment in an increasingly-crowded school scene. PT students are far, far less likely to be given scholarships, which means that they are almost entirely self-funded. PT programs attract students who're risk-averse, because PT students can help pay for more with fewer loans while working, have a guaranteed job, keep company health insurance, etc.

Furthermore, Cooley has over 3,000 part-time students. I don't know what their PT enrollment was in 1991, but it seems like they could very easily skew the numbers single-handedly.

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