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New Research Finds That Law School Rankings Complicate Diversity Efforts
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New research may indicate that U.S. News and World Report law school rankings do not help law schools create a more diverse student body. There is pressure to hold or improve a school’s current ranking and this can mean fewer openings for students from diverse backgrounds. These students may score lower on the LSAT and have lower grade point averages. “Selectivity” makes up a quarter of a school’s ranking in U.S. News calculations and takes into account LSAT scores, undergraduate grades and schools’ degree of exclusivity in accepting prospective students.

U.S. News has a law school diversity index but that data is not a factor in the overall rankings. Bob Morse, the Director of Data Research for the U.S. News rankings says that diversity is a “complicated issue” and it does not fit easily into the rankings formula.

Law school admissions officers told researchers that U.S. News rankings have forced them to place a greater emphasis on test scores because it is easier to control a school’s median LSAT score than it is for them to control their “reputation” scores. Reputation scores are based on the polling of lawyers, judges and administrators at peer schools. This makes a school less apt to admit students with lower LSAT scores and an emphasis is placed on giving merit based scholarships to students with high test scores, rather than need based aid that usually goes to economically disadvantaged students. There are concerns that these rankings do not recognize or downgrade a school which may have a different emphasis in the admissions process, such as admitting people with a history of public service who may not have top LSAT scores.

  
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This research was conducted by sociology professors Wendy Espeland of Northwestern University and Michael Sauder of the University of Iowa. The pair has been studying the impact of U.S. News rankings on graduate programs since 2003. Espeland and Sauder co-authored a recent paper analyzing how law school management is influenced by the rankings. Diversity was considered as part of their larger research and they published their findings in “Rankings and Diversity” in the fall 2009 issue of the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice.

Espeland and Sauder recommend that U.S. News allow schools to opt out of being ranked if they choose and account for diversity in their rankings process. Morse believes there is no fair and meaningful way to account for diversity and that it is not something U.S. News can do in their rankings. He does support Espeland and Sauder’s recommendations that schools understand that these rankings measure median LSAT and grade levels and not averages. This allows schools to accept students with lower test scores and grades without lowering the overall median GPA and LSAT score statistics.

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